NLL.com Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch was at the team's recent open practice. He reports that conditioning is a high priority and offers other insights into coach Kilgour's squad.
The Buffalo Bandits opened the doors of First Niagara Center on Saturday morning for an open practice, drawing in a strong and sometimes boisterous crowd. The Bandits are three weeks into training camp and with the final roster cuts due to be made on December 22nd, players and coaches alike are noticing an increased level of competition.
Head Coach Darris Kilgour called this "the most talented camp we've had," noting how difficult he expects the cuts to be this year. "Everyone's fighting for a job out there," says team captain and defensive specialist Chris White.
The higher talent levels are not unique to Banditland. With only nine teams in the league this year, every team has upgraded. The question Bandits fans are asking: have the Bandits improved enough to bring the Champion's Cup back to Buffalo?
An area of emphasis from the coaching staff this year is strength and conditioning. Kilgour has brought in Joe DiPietro as the team's new Strength and Conditioning coach and has charged him with ensuring that his team is just as fresh in the fourth quarter as the first.
White admitted that the team has lost games in the last quarter in the past couple seasons and says that a lack of conditioning will not be an excuse this year. Forward Tracey Kelusky has seen the "speed of the game [increase] over the last two or three years," placing even greater importance on team conditioning.
The Bandits team speed will be picked up by first round draft pick Jeremy Thompson. The rookie transition player was showing off his speed throughout practice today and expects to make an impact on both sides of the floor this year as a rookie. He told me that his dad was a defensive player who always wanted to play both ends of the floor and that's the type of player he wants to be, "scor[ing] some goals and play[ing] some tough D." A native of Nedrow, NY just South of Syracuse, Thompson attended Bandits games as a child and suggested that stepping onto the floor in Banditland is a "dream come true."
Fan favorite Billy Dee Smith was welcomed back with one of the loudest cheers of the day. Smith missed all of last season with a serious knee injury but says it is all healed and feels "better than ever." He does not think he's lost a step due to the injury, retaining the speed that has made him a threat in transition, and even suggested that the knee brace he is sporting makes him feel "indestructible."
The Bandits are the only team in the league that will not see an opponent in a preseason exhibition setting this year. Kilgour said that the team reached out to several potential opponents attempting to set up a scrimmage, but that there were "no takers," insinuating that may be due to the all-out brawl that broke out during the team's scrimmage with Toronto last preseason. Nonetheless, the coach believes that the strong veteran presence will have the team fully prepared and ready to face that same Toronto Rock team in the opener on January 14.