The Buffalo Bandits, led by the NLL's all-time leading scorer John Tavares (above), opened training camp this weekend after plenty of offseason changes. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Bandits opened training camp for the upcoming 2013 National Lacrosse League season with hopes of rebounding from last year's 7-9 record and an early playoff exit. After an offseason overhaul by newly-hired Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich, plenty of new faces were on the turf at First Niagara Center this weekend.
"We wanted to get rid of some guys, not to send a message, but to get some younger, reinvigorated guys to bring the passion back," Dietrich said. "We set forth trying to keep the glue guys, but also new players who are going to be amazed at playing in front of 18,000 people and who realize what an honor it is to put on this jersey."
Dietrich, a recent NLL Hall of Fame inductee after his illustrious 18-year playing career as a goaltender, wore the Bandits sweater from 2002-07 before retiring in 2010. After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Rock, Dietrich brings his comprehensive knowledge of the game back to Buffalo after taking over GM duties from head coach Darris Kilgour.
"Steve is a great lacrosse mind," said Bandits forward John Tavares, the NLL's all-time leading scorer entering his 22nd season with the team. "He's only going to help the organization. He knows pretty much every upcoming and existing player, so I have all the faith in [him]."
The team's major offseason acquisition was trading for forward Shawn Williams, a 16-year veteran who played with the Bandits from 2000-01 and helped lead the Edmonton Rush to the title game last year. Other newcomers include David Brock, Glen Bryan, Nick Cotter, Mike Hominuck, Jamie Rooney, Derek Suddons and Aaron Wilson, in addition to rookies Dhane Smith, Hayden Smith, Jordan Critch and Carter Bender.
Dietrich and Kilgour hope the influx of new personnel will motivate returning players to step their game up.
"The bigger message was sent to the veterans – your job is on the line this year," Kilgour said. "I thought we got really complacent the last couple years. Guys sort of felt like they deserved something rather than earning it. We wanted to get rid of that attitude. Going forward, that message will be sent."
The biggest question mark surrounding the roster is the contract status of two holdouts, Luke Wiles, the team's second-leading scorer in 2012, and standout defenseman Billy Dee Smith.
"We're working towards trying to get them signed," Dietrich said. "But I'd rather talk about the guys that are here today."
Anthony Cosmo enters the season as the unquestioned starter after Mike Thompson's retirement while Tracey Kelusky, Tavares and Williams will be counted on to provide veteran leadership. Mark Steenhuis and Scott Self are both currently sidelined after offseason surgery, but they are expected to return soon.
"I'm a believer of keeping a nucleus and changing a couple faces here and there," Tavares said. "We're not rebuilding, it's more like revamping."
The Bandits open the 2013 regular season on the road against the Philadelphia Wings on Friday, Jan. 11 at Wells Fargo Center. The following night, Buffalo will host the Minnesota Swarm for their home opener at First Niagara Center.