The “winds of change” that have circulated around Buffalo sports the past few months blew through Banditland as well when the team parted ways with longtime head coach, Darris Kilgour, this summer and brought in former Bandit player and assistant coach, Troy Cordingley.
Cordingley got his first look at the team on Saturday at the First Niagara Center as the Bandits opened training camp for the 2013-14 season. Cordingley became available after he was fired by the Toronto Rock after four seasons with the team. He won a championship with Toronto in 2011.
The Bandits are coming off one their most disappointing seasons in team history as they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. The challenge to get back to the playoffs will be even tougher this year as the National Lacrosse League changed their playoff format by reducing the number of playoff teams from eight to six.
Second year General Manager, Steve Dietrich, continued to overhaul the roster during the offseason after making major changes during his first season. Even with the new faces both on and behind the bench don’t expect the Bandits to take path of “rebuilding” or “suffering” like the Bills and Sabres have.
“We made a lot of moves last year that didn’t pan out the way we thought,” said Dietrich, “we brought in some real good players this year and I wouldn’t say rebuilding, I’d say retooling.”
One of those new players is Ryan Benesch, who is a former NLL Rookie of the Year and led the league in scoring in 2011. Benesch was brought in to help a Bandits offense that scored the second fewest goals in the NLL in 2012. “We’re getting a guy that’s potentially a 40, 50 goal scorer in the league,” said Cordingley, “the thing that’s impressed me is that he’s in really good shape and what a great team guy he is.”
There were plenty of familiar faces at camp as well including 45-year-old John Tavares, who is back for a 23rd season with the Bandits. The NLL all-time leading scorer is rested and healthy coming in to this season as he did not play lacrosse during the summer. Tavares will likely not play in all 18 games this season but will still provide plenty of offense when he is in the lineup.
Mark Steenhuis is back after playing through some injuries in 2012. He recently had sports hernia surgery and is not yet cleared for contact but will be ready when the season starts.
Veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith was in attendance at camp but did not practice as he is holding out for a new contract. Dietrich is confident the two sides will come to an agreement shortly. The team will not resign free agent defenseman Derek Suddons.
The Bandits will play two preseason games against the Philadelphia Wings at the First Niagara Center on December 7 & 8. The December 7 game is open to the public and is free to attend.
Check out the On-Demand Audio section for the full interviews with Dietrich and Cordingley.