Over the past few seasons, the Buffalo Bandits have been a team defined by their experience. One of the oldest teams in the league, this attribute has earned the team praise as well as ridicule. The rule changes last season made for a faster league, one in which youth thrived. With their four picks in the first two rounds of the 2012 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft, the franchise is trying to move towards the younger end of the spectrum as well.
Leading this year’s draft class is the team’s first round pick, Dhane Smith of the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves. He led all players in the junior circuit with 107 points in 19 games. Smith hopes to be a strong addition to the team’s offensive unit, one that had some issues with scoring depth last season.
“They should expect me to go full out every shift,” said Smith. “I love a challenge. I’m an offensive guy, but can for sure play defense as well. They should expect me pushing the ball in transition a lot and when I get the chance finishing on my opportunities.”
Smith is excited to be jumping up to the NLL, and even more excited that he’ll be doing it with the Bandits. Not only were the Bandits his favorite team growing up, he also is getting the chance to play with his cousin, Billy Dee Smith.
“It was a team I dreamed of playing for as a little kid,” said Smith when asked about the Bandits organization. “Everyone wanted to play for Toronto but I was the opposite, hoping I’d get the chance to play alongside my cousin in Buffalo. It’s a dream come true watching him and playing him in senior. I think everyone would agree when I say he’s a better person to play with than against.”
Smith got a chance to play with many NLL players in the senior league this season with the Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks. That gave Bandits GM Steve Dietrich, who holds the same role with the Kodiaks, a chance to get a good look at the young stud. It also gave scouts an opportunity to see how he lined up against better talent.
“I expect the NLL to be a lot faster. I realize playing in Sr. that although Sr. was filled with NLL players, it was their off season so some weren’t going 100 percent. But I do feel like my game will be effective in the NLL.”
Buffalo had three second round picks, which they used to select Hayden Smith(13th overall), Jordan Critch(16th) and <Carter Bender (18th). The Bandits hope that each player can find a spot on this year’s roster.
Hayden Smith is a gritty defender, a player who likes to get after opponents. He’s built quite the reputation in his two years with the Orangeville Northmen. The Bandits have holes on the defensive end with the losses of Chris White, Ian Llord and Daryl Gibson. Smith is hoping that he can slide right into the Bandits defensive unit.
“Moving to the NLL will be a challenge, but the Bandits play a form of defense similar to the defense I played in Orangeville,” said Smith. “I believe I can make a smooth transition and bring a strong defensive presence to the team.”
The Bandits have been known for hard-nosed lacrosse for a while, something that Smith also prides in his game. However, the Bandits have run into problems in the past with aggression, problems that caused the team to always be near the top of the league in major penalties. Hayden understands that there is a time and place for such shenanigans.
“You could say I am an energy player that plays with speed and some controlled aggression,” said Smith about his style of play. “I like to go for the big hit but know when it’s necessary to lay off or put the pedal down.” That sounds like music to many Bandits fans’ ears.
With the second of their three second-rounders, the Bandits added another offensive threat in Jordan Critch, another member of last year’s Orangeville squad. Critch was third on the team in scoring with 38 goals and 24 assists in 16 regular season games. He also stepped up his game in the playoffs, adding 16 goals and 9 assists en route to winning the Minto Cup.
Critch describes his game as “fast and smart.” He likes to serve as an offensive general on the floor. “I am great at reading plays and finding teammates on the floor, can push the ball well and can finish from different areas on the floor,” said Critch. Although some players have some difficulties adjusting to the NLL, Critch expects the league to be somewhat similar to the leagues that he has played in in the past.
“I am expecting a bigger atmosphere and a great experience,” Critch began. “It will definitely be different, playing at a faster pace against some of the best players in the world but at the same time I feel it won’t be much different from junior lacrosse.”
Bender is a big man, standing at 6’3’’ and 205 lbs. Bender played with many NLL players this summer in the MSL for the Brampton Excelsiors, giving him experience some other draftees lacked. He was third on the team with 25 points this season. He adds size and pick ability that the Bandits lacked last season.
“I think having played with the Brampton Excelsiors for the past two summers has given me experience as a rookie in this league,” said Bender. “I think I can bring my size and skill to help open things up on offense and to attack the net. My style of play is using my size to set hard picks, but also understanding the pick and roll game very well which in turn gets me open for scoring opportunities.”
Bender is looking forward to going to Buffalo to play for a franchise he believes is one of the best in the league. “I am very excited to be a Buffalo Bandit,” said Bender. “The Bandit organization has always established themselves as one of the most dominant teams in the league and also one of the most dominant professional sports teams in Buffalo. The loyal fan base makes for a great atmosphere come game time, which makes me that much more excited to get to training camp and work hard to find my role on this team.”
“I am very excited to be playing with everyone on the Bandits roster, but being a lefty offensive player I would have to say I’m excited to play with John Tavares,” Bender continued. “Growing up watching John play was always a learning experience, seeing something new every time the Bandits came to the ACC. I’m sure playing with him will be no different.”
The Bandits selected three more players in the draft, including Joel Matthews. Matthews, taken 31st overall, has spent time with the Six Nations Arrows and St. Catharines Athletics in the Junior A league as well as with Detroit Mercy in the NCAA. Matthews was fifth on the Athletics in scoring with 32 points in almost half as many games played as many of his teammates. Growing up so close to Buffalo in St. Catharines, Matthews is very familiar with the organization.
“It is a dream come true to be drafted by the Buffalo Bandits,” Matthews said. “I have been watching them since I was 10 years old, their fans are wild and intense and they have an amazing organization and coaching staff. I know I will learn a lot by playing for this lacrosse team. It means I get to start a new and exciting chapter in my life, and I could not be more excited for what is to come in the future for me and my career.”
Matthews is another player that brings size to the team, standing at 6’3’’ and 215 lbs. He has undergone vigorous offseason training in preparation for training camp, and hopefully his rookie season in Buffalo.
“I have been getting into excellent shape by doing new training styles; I am currently obsessed with CrossFit and I feel it is giving me the strength, endurance and stamina to compete at a high level in the NLL,” said Mathews. “My pick and roll game is very physical and intelligent, I can create a lot of space for guys on the offensive side. My overhand shot has got a lot better over the years and I find it to be very accurate. Overall I’m just a tough, gritty player who enjoys mixing it up and I will do whatever Darris Kilgour and the coaching staff ask of me, and I’ll simply give it everything I got all day, every day.”
Matthews feels the Bandits addressed many of the teams needs with this year’s draft. “I feel that the Bandits drafted correctly and got a lot of young, big, physical, talented players that can bring a lot to this year’s team,” he began. “I think there are a lot of winners on the Bandits roster and in the coaching staff so I know that I will learn so much in this upcoming season, because you have Minto cup champions, Mann cup champions, world champions, and the list goes on so I feel this roster can help me get to the level I want to be at.”
The Bandits start off their preparations for this season on November 10th when the team holds its free agent tryout session at the First Niagara Center. The team’s training camp will start soon after, a camp that is incredibly important for all of the rookies hoping to make the team. Buffalo will soon find out if they can start a successful youth movement of their own.
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