Roughnecks make first trip to Buffalo since 2003, know they’ll have to deal with Banditland fans

Mark Steenhuis has been thrilling the Banditland faithful since 2002.
Mark Steenhuis has been thrilling the Banditland faithful since 2002.

The Calgary Roughnecks joined the National Lacrosse League in 2002. Since then, they have made exactly one regular season trip to Buffalo to play the Bandits. That game took place on Saturday, January 25, 2003 and resulted in a 23-17 Bandits win. The Roughnecks visit Banditland again this

Saturday at 7 pm ET in a game that can be seen on ESPN3 and TSN2. And when Calgary rolls into Buffalo, there will be exactly one player who was on the roster back when the Riggers made their previous trip.

“It was actually my first ever NLL game was in Buffalo. I sat the first four games [of the season] and in Buffalo was the first time I got into the lineup,” says current Calgary captain Andrew McBride. He’ll be sharing some insights into what it’s like to play in Buffalo with his teammates, including his experience from that long-ago contest. “It is a pretty intimidating environment for sure. It’s loud and in your face. I think I took a penalty in the first 20 seconds because I was so jacked up on what the crowd was bringing to the table.”

There will also be a few Bandits remaining on the roster from 2003. Rugged defender Billy Dee Smith was a rookie and flashy forward Mark Steenhuis was in his second year with the Bandits that season. And, of course, John Tavares was a 34-year-old veteran who was a couple of years removed from setting the single-season scoring record of 115 points that would hold up until John Grant Jr. broke it two years ago.

Part of the reason the Bandits have enjoyed so much success over the years is definitely the crowd that shows up for their games. And the crowd really shows up. “If you see the stands, they’ve got signs, they’ve got costumes, they’re informed about the play. You can see the little nuances that they react to, like for a loose ball or someone running hard to the bench,” McBride says. Plus they’re loud. Really loud. “We’re going to need to do a really good job of trying to establish some kind of rhythm and trying to quell that crowd down, because if they get fired up on all cylinders and as you’ve seen by the Buffalo success being 6-1 at home, it’s a pretty dangerous combination.”

McBride says you can see the Bandits feed off the crowd and it gives them a lot of confidence when they’re playing at home. And it can be distracting for the visitors. McBride recalls the feeling of walking out into the arena with the crowd already really into it. “I just remember even coming out in warmup and just the excitement of the crowd. I know our team was super excited to be able to play in that atmosphere and just looking around on the bench and being like, wow, what an experience to play in front of a rabid crowd like this. We were trying our best to control our emotions and I remember Chris Hall, the coach at the time, being like ‘What are we doing, don’t worry about the crowd, focus on what we need to focus on.’”

Plenty has changed in the National Lacrosse League since Calgary was last in Buffalo, but the challenge of dealing with the rabid Bandits fan base is still something that visitors have to contend with. The Roughnecks’ approach, McBride says, will be to focus on what each play can contribute to the team. “Something that we’ll do as a leadership group is go remind each and every guy why you contribute to the success of the Calgary Roughnecks. From a guy like Karsen Leung who transitions the ball up the floor and pressures on defence, to a guy like Daryl Veltman who’s consistently cutting off the transition in the offensive end and being aware of getting through the floor and creating space and opportunities for other guys. Reminding everyone that we need to focus on individual successes and if we start worrying about what other people are doing, what the referees are doing, what the crowd in Buffalo is doing, we’re taking away from being successful.”

So when you’re watching the game Saturday night—and you should definitely watch the game, it should be a dandy—keep an eye on how well Calgary players are able to “stay in the moment and not worry about external distractions,” as McBride succinctly describes it. Their success at doing so will go a long way to determining whether they’ll be able to pull out the Roughnecks first ever win in Buffalo.

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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