December not only signals that Christmas is near, but it also means the Buffalo Bandits season opener is fast approaching. This year it’ll be here even sooner than usual. The National Lacrosse League added two additional games to each teams schedule, giving each an extra home game. That extra home game comes in the form of a late Christmas present with the Bandits opening the season December 28 against the Philadelphia Wings. All but five of the Bandits games are played on Saturdays, with one home and one away game on a Friday, and two games on Sunday afternoons, both of which are away.
Last Saturday, the Bandits held an open scrimmage at the First Niagara Center, which also marked a first for the team. The Bandits faced the Wings in an exhibition in front of fans for the first time in team history. The scrimmage, which was open and free to the public, gave fans an up close view of players jockeying for a roster spot, and some of the veterans who were trying to shake loose some offseason rust. The scrimmage was the length and format of an official game with penalties, power plays, and giveaways. Rax, the Bandits raccoon mascot, was entertaining the crowd all game long and even brought out the t-shirt cannon. Afterwards, the entire Bandits team stuck around for an autograph session where fans could meet their favorite players.
After last seasons disappointing 7-9 record, the Bandits brass decided to shake things up and hired Troy Cordingley to be the seventh head coach in team history. Cordingley, who was lured away from rival Toronto, led the Rock to a 10-6 record last year, the best in the regular season, and won his second NLL coach of the year award. But Cordingley doesn’t just have good coaching credentials. He played seven seasons in Buffalo, won two championships, and is in the top ten in team history for goals, assists, and points. He brings an air of familiarity back to the arena, and he knows how passionate the Bandits fan base is.
Head coach wasn’t the only area the team addressed in the offseason. The Bandits made a huge deal with the Minnesota Swarm to bring in high scoring forward Ryan Benesch to help pick up the goal scoring, which was a major issue for Bandits last year. With veterans Johnny Tavares getting yet another year older, 45 in September, and Mark Steenhuis trying to bounce back from a down year, at least for him, Benesch should be able to add to the Bandits offense. He has ranked in the top ten in the league in goals the last three seasons, and was named the NLL Rookie of the Year in 2007.
Buffalo also picked up Andrew Watt who is a transition player, a defensive player who has break way scoring ability, and ball control, in the deal. Watt will compliment returning defensemen Billy Dee Smith and Derek Suddons, both of whom signed two year deals to stay with the Bandits.
The Bandits will play a few more scrimmages before it has to finalize its twenty-man roster for the start of the regular season.