Bandits looking for turnaround season in 2014

Chad Culp and the Bandits are looking to give their fans more to cheer about this year. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Chad Culp and the Bandits are looking to give their fans more to cheer about this year. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The past couple of seasons have been a roller coaster ride for the Buffalo Bandits, and like a roller coaster it’s the downhills that are more memorable than the ups. So it’s easy to forget that as recently as 2011 the Bandits won a playoff game and lost by just one goal in the East Division finals. Yes, they were that close to erasing what would come to be Bob Watson’s illustrious final championship before he headed off to the Hall of Fame. But the two years since then have felt like long ones in Banditland, where folks are used to winning. Going 7-9 and losing in the first round in 2012 was one thing, but not even making the playoffs last year? That just doesn’t sit well in Buffalo.

Buffalo Bandits

2013: 6-10, missed playoffs
Top 3 returning scorers: Shawn Williams (19 goals, 46 assists, 65 points); Aaron Wilson (23/23/46); Dhane Smith (24/20/44)
Key additions: Ryan Benesch (forward), Rory Smith (defence), Joe Resetarits (forward), Andrew Watt (defence)
Key departures: Mike Hominuck (retired), Luke Wiles (traded to Philadelphia)

Outlook: There’s nowhere to go but up for the Bandits. They were the only team to miss the post season in the old format. They also scored the second-fewest goals in the league (just one more than Philadelphia) and allowed the most (tied with Calgary). Clearly, it was time for some change. The club started with a change at the top, replacing Head Coach Darris Kilgour with Troy Cordingley.

GM Steve Dietrich was also active in reshaping the team, bringing in Ryan Benesch to bolster the offence and Rory Smith to add some oomph to the defence. Andrew Watt will help with the team’s speed and transition game, as will the continued growth of young star Dhane Smith, who led the team in goals last year.

For all the struggles that just seemed to pile on top of each other last year, all wasn’t that bad in Buffalo. The team was 3-1 out of the gates and sat at 5-3 halfway through the year, before the six-game losing streak that would come to define their season. Even so, they were battling for a playoff spot against the eventual champion Knighthawks in the final game of the season, which they lost by a single goal.

So there isn’t that far to go for the Bandits to be right back in the thick of things. If John Tavares is healthier than he was last year and Anthony Cosmo is more like his usual self, they should be significantly improved. Of course, given that everyone in the league keeps getting better and only three teams will make the playoffs out of the now five-team East Division, they’d better be.

Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at stamplax@hotmail.com.

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