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Buffalo Bandits 2019 Season Preview

First off, what an offseason for the Buffalo Bandits! This preview looked a lot different at the beginning of the week. They had already made some noise with their draft picks, player signings, and the announcement that Rich Kilgour and John Tavares would be sharing head coaching duties, but after the CBA issues were resolved they picked up two incredible players in six-time Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc and sharpshooter Corey Small in the same week.

After two seasons in a row of missing the playoffs, the Bandits will need a more complete season to have another run at the NLL championship like they did in 2016. In 2018, they started out strong with a record of 6-3 in their first 9 games, but ended up skidding to a record of 2-7 in the second half of the season.

The Bandits return most of their key players and with their new additions they will be fun to watch all season with what should be one of the most high-powered offenses in the league and a much stronger defense.

Heading into a shortened training camp here is what the 2019 Buffalo Bandits will look like.

Buffalo Bandits New England Blackwolves Photo Jeff Melnik

Stats Guide: G = Goal, A = Assist, LB = Loose Ball, CTO = Caused Turnover, FO = Faceoff, GA= Goals Against, SV = Save, PIM = Penalty Minutes, PPG = Power Play Goal, PPA = Power Play Assist

Buffalo Bandits’ Top Returners:

RF Dhane Smith – 105 PTS (37 G, 68 A), 95 LB, 12 CTO, 9 PPG, 20 PPA

RF Shawn Evans – 83 PTS (50 G, 65 A), 89 LB, 7 PPG, 10 PPA, 51 PTS with New England for 9 games and had 32 PTS with Buffalo in 8 games

RF Chase Fraser – 14 PTS (8 G, 6 A) 41 LB, 47-93 (.505%) FO, in 9 games

LF Jordan Durston – 65 PTS (24 G, 41 A), 79 LB, 6 PPG, 14 PPA

LF Josh Byrne – 63 PTS (26 G, 37 A), 72 LB, 3 PPG, 13 PPA

LF Zach Herreweyers – 1 PT (1 G), 4 LB, in 1 game

Alex Kedoh Hill – 32 PTS (12 G, 20 A), 85 LB in 2017, signed a contract after the publication of this article

T Mark Steenhuis – 13 PTS (4 G, 9 A), 30 LB, 7 CTO

T Kevin Brownell – 10 PTS (6 G, 4 A) 105 LB

T Thomas Hoggarth – 4 PTS (3 G, 1 A), 16 LB

D Steve Priolo – 19 PTS (3 G, 16 A), 138 LB, 32 CTO, 45 PIM

D Nick Weiss – 22 PTS (9 G, 13 A), 114 LB, 24 CTO, 39-114 (.342%) FO

D Mitch de Snoo – 15 PTS (3 G, 12 A), 127 LB, 18 CTO, 39 PIM

D Ryan Wagner – 11 PTS (1 G, 10 A), 77 LB, 15 CTO

D Justin Martin – 3 PTS (2 G, 1 A), 37 LB, 8 CTO

D Ethan Schott – 3 PTS (3 A), 35 LB, 8 CTO

D Bill O’Brien – 5 LB in 3 games

G Zach Higgins – 4 PTS (4 A), 13.02 GAA, .758 SV% (81 GA, 254 SV), 2 W – 4 L

Key Losses:

LF Mitch Jones – 81 PTS (38 G, 43A), 116 LB, 10 PPG, 10 PPA, traded to Vancouver for Corey Small

RF Vaughn Harris – 32 PTS (18 G, 14 A), 105 LB, 162-338 (.479%) FO, taken in the Expansion Draft by Philadelphia

RF Craig England – 20 PTS (9 G, 11 A), placed on injured reserve season ending list

D Zac Reid – 5 PTS (1 G, 4 A), 45 LB, taken in the Expansion Draft by Philadelphia

G Alex Buque – 1 PTS (1 A), 12.94 GAA, .771 SV% (153 GA, 515 SV), 6 W – 6 L, Traded to New England for 2021 first-round draft pick

Key Additions:

G Matt Vinc – 9 PTS (9 A), 11.39 GAA, .790 SV% (239 GA, 878 SV), 12 W – 8 L, last season for Rochester in the regular season and playoffs

LF Corey Small – 77 PTS (28 G, 49 A), 37 LB, 6 PPG, 12 PPA, acquired from Vancouver in Mitch Jones trade

T Ethan O’Connor – 3 PTS (3 A), 29 LB, last season for Georgia

D Bryce Sweeting – 5 PTS (2 G, 3 A), 39 LB, last season for Colorado

D Matt Spanger – 5 PTS (1 G, 4 A), 30 LB, 7 CTO, last season for New England

D Jon Harnett – 1 PT (1 A), 3 LB, in 2 games last season for Vancouver, only played in 5 games the past 2 years

RF Dallas Bridle – 36 PTS (13 G, 23 A) with Oakville Rock in the 2018 MSL season

RF Dylan Molloy – 59 PTS (41 G, 18 A) with Florida Launch in the 2018 MLL season

T Matt Gilray – 9 PTS (3 G, 6 A) with Peterborough in the 2018 MSL season including 1 goal in the Mann Cup, 3rd pick in the 2018 Draft

T Ian MacKay – 11 PTS (4 G, 7A) with Six Nations in the 2018 MSL season, 4th pick in the 2018 Draft

G Devlin Shanahan – 7.36 GAA, .647 SV% (61 GA, 112 SV), 6 W – 2 L, with Mimico in the 2018 Jr. A season, 43rd pick in the 2018 Draft

D Alec Tamas – 6 PTS (2 G, 4 A) with St. Catherines in the 2018 Jr. A season, not drafted but signed contract

Offense

The Bandits Offense will look much different this year with the loss of Mitch Jones, Vaughn Harris and Craig England, but the additions they made in the offseason will make them one of the scariest units coming out of the gate this season.

Dhane Smith has had three 100 point seasons in the past 4 years and is on pace for another great year after a solid summer with Six Nations in the MSL. Joining the Great Dhane on the right side are former NLL MVP Shawn Evans, Chase Fraser, newcomer Dallas Bridle and Dylan Molloy if he can adjust to the indoor game. The 6 ft, 220 lb Molloy could be a big presence inside setting picks and backing down defensemen. After half a season of playing together last year, Evans and Smith will be hard to stop once they really start to click.

The left side loses sharpshooter Mitch Jones, but gains arguably a better shooter in Corey Small. Small had 111 points in 2017, but slumped a bit with a struggling Vancouver team last year. Small should be able to bring his numbers back up playing on this fast-paced offense.

Returning on the left are a great finisher in Jordan Durston and the crafty Josh Byrne who is entering his sophomore season, after an exciting rookie year in Banditland that earned him All-Rookie team honors. Also look out for Zach Herreweyers and draft pick Ian MacKay to contribute. MacKay could see time at both ends of the floor as he also plays solid defense.

This offense cannot rely on one of their stars to win them the game every night, which is what happened several times last season. Each player will have to contribute in order for them to dominate the way they should be able to. A positive from last year was having the 3rd best power play unit in the league. Look for the power play to be even deadlier this season. With a solid core of veterans and some newcomers the Bandits offense should be one of the best in the league.

Edit: Transition player Alex Kedoh Hill, who at the time of this article’s publication was not listed on the roster, has signed a contract and will be returning to the Bandits after sitting out the 2018 season. He had 32 Points (12 G, 20 A) and 85 LB in 2017. He is a versatile player who can play at both ends of the floor and he adds another veteran presence to the Bandits.

Defense

Steve Priolo Buffalo Bandits fight Brodie Merrill 2015 NLL Photo Credit Bill Wippert.png

Captain Steve Priolo will continue to anchor the Bandits D along with Mitch de Snoo, Nick Weiss, Ryan Wagner, Mark Steenhuis, Kevin Brownell, Justin Martin and a strong supporting cast of guys like Thomas Hoggarth, Ethan Schott, and Bill O’Brien. The additions of Ethan O’Connor, Bryce Sweeting, draft picks Matt Gilray and Ian MacKay, and recent additions like Jon Harnett, Matt Spanger, and Alec Tamas should add some juice to a group that already loves to push the ball up the floor.

This group struggled last year, but with the additions of guys like Gilray and Mackay they should be able to really lock it down on the back end. With Matt Vinc now in net, they will have a veteran presence to guide them and talk them through picks and screens. Priolo was tied for second in the NLL with 45 PIM and de Snoo was not far behind, totaling 39 PIM last season. They may need to manage their extracurriculars a bit to avoid putting the team on the penalty kill too often. What those penalty minutes also show is that these guys do not mess around and will make any forward think twice about coming through the middle after Priolo or any other defensemen deals with them.

There will be a lot of defensemen and defensive transition players in training camp and it will be interesting to see if any new players or rookies will make the cut. All of the players in this defensive group can push the ball in transition. Getting goals from defensemen and their transition players is going to be crucial in games where the offense might be struggling. If the Bandits defense can find chemistry during the shortened training camp the Bandits will be extremely tough to play against on both ends of the floor.

Faceoffs

With Vaughn Harris leaving for Philadelphia, Nick Weiss and Chase Fraser return as the team’s primary draw guys. They will need to be over the 50% mark to help the Bandits facilitate the fast pace the team wants to play and be able to get their star-studded offense the ball. Fraser did well when he was in the lineup with a win percentage of .505% and if he can emerge as a top draw man he will likely find a permanent role on the team. Findings ways to tie up strong faceoff guys, like Rochester’s Jake Withers, and create loose balls will also be huge for the Bandits to get more possessions this season.

Goalies

Matt Vinc, Rochester Knighthawks. Photo: Micheline V

The biggest question for the Bandits for the past few years has been their goaltending. However, it looks like they will not have to worry anymore now that they have signed future Hall-of-Famer Matt Vinc.


BONUS: Read about NLL Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc’s signing with the Bandits here on LaxAllStars.


Vinc comes to Buffalo after winning three NLL Championships (2012, 2013, 2014) and six Goalie of the Year awards for the Rochester Knighthawks. Vinc went to school at Canisius College in Buffalo and lives just over the bridge in St. Catherines, Ontario, which means he has strong roots in the city.

The Bandits will also have a strong back up in Zach Higgins who played well when his number was called last season, but will need to continue to elevate his game to become a top goalie in the league. Learning from Vinc for a few years will surely help him develop into an elite goalie.

Recent draft pick Devlin Shanahan will also fight for a spot in training camp and will learn a lot early on from being around Vinc. Bandits fans will be very happy that Vinc will be making saves for them now instead of stealing wins from their team.

Two Head Coaches?

What goes on behind the bench will be just as important as what the players are doing on the floor. We will see how the dynamic of two head coaches plays out and if Rich Kilgour and John Tavares are able to share the role.

Kilgour was the captain of the Bandits for 12 seasons and had 317 points as a defenseman. Tavares is the best player in Bandits history and arguably the best lacrosse player to ever play in the NLL. How will practices be run? Who will be making the play calls in overtime? They will have to find the right balance or else this experiment could end badly.

Thankfully for Bandits fans, Kilgour and Tavares have played together and coached together for years. Kilgour will likely run the defense and Tavares will coordinate the offense. I think fans will see lots positive changes coming from behind the bench with their shared knowledge and leadership. Both Kilgour and Tavares have brought championships to Buffalo as players, but now they must collaborate to win as coaches.

Outlook for 2019:

The 2019 season has the potential to be a huge leap forward for the Bandits. The shortened training camp will be a battle with so many talented players returning and new players trying to win a spot on the gameday roster.

The roster that emerges from training camp will be stacked at every position. Also, with the addition of Corey Small, Bryce Sweeting and Matt Gilray there are now seven players on the Bandits roster that won the 2018 Mann Cup together with the Peterborough Lakers. Maybe they can bring the success they had together in the summer to the NLL season.

It will be no easy task for the Bandits to win the East Division as Rochester, Georgia and New England reached the playoffs last year and Toronto is set to rebound after a disappointing 2018 season. Philadelphia also has potential to have a successful first season with a roster full of talented players.

The Bandits can get off to a hot start in their first 9 games, but must avoid a repeat of last season’s slump and find a way to grind out wins in the second half of the season when they face the likes of defending champions Saskatchewan to get back in to the playoffs.

Also, because of the CBA negotiations, games originally scheduled against Toronto on December 1st and against San Diego on December 8th were rescheduled to be played on December 21st (Toronto) and April 27th (San Diego). The Bandits will end the regular season facing San Diego, which by the end of the season could be a tough team to beat if their roster finds chemistry in their first year in the NLL.

The Buffalo Bandits will be hungry for the playoffs and an NLL Championship in 2019. They will play in the first game of the 2019 NLL season on December 15th in Philadelphia against the revived Wings franchise. The next weekend, the KeyBank Center will be rocking with rowdy fans on December 21st for the home opener as the Toronto Rock come to Banditland for Buffalo’s first home game of the season.

 


To see the Bandits’ full schedule, click here.