The Buffalo Bandits are entering their 10th National Lacrosse League season of the Darris Kilgour era and perhaps the most impressive thing about this era is that the Bandits have never missed the playoffs with Kilgour as coach. That’s not about to change anytime soon. Not with what the Bandits will throw on the floor for the 2012 season. A couple of trades beefed up the offense, a strong entry draft added some young legs to the defense that’ll push the return of some vets in that unit, and the transition game could be even stronger than ever. Make no mistake: The East Division is going to be a bear this season, loaded with talent up and down. The Buffalo Bandits are very capable contenders, indeed, but it won’t be an easy road for anyone.
2011: 10-6, lost in East Division final
Top 3 returning scorers: John Tavares (32 goals, 46 assists for 78 points), Mark Steenhuis (22-39, 61), Tracey Kelusky (21-33, 54).
League leaders: none.
Key additions: F Luke Wiles, F Jeremy Thompson, F Mat Giles, D Damon Edwards.
Key departures: D Chris Corbeil.
Outlook: The Bandits are in good shape; GM and coach Darris Kilgour rarely leaves any stone unturned in fine-tuning his roster and what’s being set up for the 2012 season is no exception.
Of course, they weren’t in bad shape to begin with, not with John Tavares leading the left side and Mark Steenhuis the right. But a trade with Washington gives Buffalo a veteran in Luke Wiles while a trade with Minnesota gives them yet another experienced stick in Mat Giles. Both are right-handers and will provide valuable depth for an offense that’s certainly not lacking in experience. Which is to say, they’re not really getting any younger up front. The Bandits will have to guard against injury out the front door. They learned 2 years ago how vital health is when Tavares missed a few games. It wasn’t pretty. But at least now if someone’s out for a spell, they’ve got others they can turn to.
On the other end, however, the Bandits are putting together a solid core of youth. The most notable departure is that of Chris Corbeil, traded to Edmonton. That loss will be offset by the return of Billy Dee Smith, who missed all of last year with a knee injury. Jon Harasym, Chris White and Steve Priolo are back as well, and they may get some immediate contributions from draft pick Jeff Cornwall. The d-man out of Coquitlam is known for his speed and strength along with his ability to get up the floor. Damon Edwards was picked up in the Boston dispersal draft, and the defensive runners will get plenty of help from a very athletic group of transition players. Mark Steenhuis is the first name mentioned when talking about the trannys, and rightly so. He’s still the fastest guy on the team and can create for himself as well as anyone in the league. His outside shooting ability draws defenders up high, which spreads the floor and gives the forwards down low room to work.
So even if Steenhuis spends more time up top this season, the Bandits have guys to step in. Roger Vyse and Tom Montour are more than capable, and draft pick Jeremy Thompson has speed and skill to burn. The situation in goal is cemented with Mike Thompson and Angus Goodleaf under contract. Whoever is in goal has a fine defensive unit to work with. All of this adds up to the Bandits once again being labeled a contender, but isn’t that the role for Buffalo every season?Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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