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Bandits & Wings ready for opener

12/22/2013, 1:30pm EST
By Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch & Wings beat writer Julie Kayzerman for NLL.com

New era for Buffalo and Philly as league's oldest rivalry enters 23rd year

The Buffalo Bandits host the Philadelphia Wings at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET to open the 2014 NLL season. (Photo: Bill Wippert)

The Buffalo Bandits will host the Philadelphia Wings at First Niagara Center on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET to open the 2014 National Lacrosse League regular season. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network by clicking here.

Perhaps no team in the NLL is itching to return to action than the Bandits. Coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Buffalo is out for redemption.

“The guys are chomping at the bit,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley, who enters his first season as bench boss in Buffalo. “Being the only team that missed the playoffs last year, they want to redeem themselves.”

Cordingley was let go by the Toronto Rock following the 2013 season, despite earning NLL Head Coach of the Year honors. The Rock bowed out of the playoffs in a first-round blowout defeat to Minnesota, resulting in Cordinley’s dismissal.

Meanwhile, the Bandits made the difficult decision to cut ties with long time head coach Darris Kilgour after two consecutive disappointing seasons.

Hence begins the Troy Cordingley era in Buffalo. Cordingley began his coaching career as an assistant under Kilgour behind the Bandits bench and as a player he spent seven of his nine seasons in the black and orange.

Bandits captain John Tavares was around for all seven of Cordingley’s years and the ageless wonder is still suiting up. The 45 year-old Tavares enters his 23rd NLL season as the league’s all-time leader in career points, goals and assists.

Tavares made the decision to take the summer off from lacrosse to prepare for the NLL season and according to his coach, he’s ready to go.

“He’s looked real good in training camp,” Cordingley said. “Right now he’s healthy and ready to go.”

Buffalo returns 16 players from last year’s roster, and several veteran acquisitions were made to ensure the team does not miss out on the playoffs for a second consecutive season for the first time since 2001-2002.

At the head of this list is forward Ryan Benesch, who finished 8th in the NLL in scoring last year with 84 points (34+50). Benesch was acquired with transition player Andrew Watt via trade with Minnesota.

The team also brought in homegrown forward Joe Resetarits, younger brother of former Bandit Frank Resetarits, and gritty defenseman Rory Smith.

The combination of these four additions and a new head coach has fans optimistic in Buffalo.

Whether the changes are enough to bring the Bandits back to the playoffs is unclear, but a strong start out of the gate against Philadelphia will set them on the right track.

Now under new leadership as well, the reign of new head coach Blane Harrison is set to begin for the Wings.

“It’s obviously a big change for me personally being named in honor with head coach for the Philadelphia Wings,” Harrison said. “There’s a lot of expectations for anyone who wears that hat. Certainly it’s a very historic franchise and a lot of it is placed on not only the coaching staff but the individual players to basically execute and deliver.”

Harrison is happy with the turnout of their free agent camp as they were able to pull out significant players such as rookie forward Garrett Thul and Kyle Buchanan.

“[Thul’s] turning out to be a nice little player for us on the right side,” Harrison said. “He’s a big, strong, lefty kid from the military academy. [He has] plenty of upsides but for someone who’s played maybe his third indoor game, I marvel at what he’s been able to pick up from just some of the little nuances that lacrosse guys who’ve been playing all their lives, have.”

With Buchanan coming out onto the field strong during scrimmages and scoring a couple of goals a game for the Wings, his positive character has been an attribute off the field as well.

“He’s a great kid in the locker room,” Harrison said. “The guys love him.”

Also to look out for this season is forward Pat Saunders who Harrison hopes will give a little bit of grip on the left side and the middle. On the defensive end, it’s Mike Poppleton who’s “been a tremendous face-off presence for us right now,” Harrison said.

After scrimmaging the Bandits— a team looking to redeem themselves after not making the playoffs last year— a few times during pre-season, Harrison thinks it should be a big test for his team.

“They’re certainly a different team than last year,” Harrison said. “Their defense is going to be big, strong [and] tough and protect the middle were going to have to really match that kind of work to be able to be successful offensively and then defensively the same thing—just being able to match their toughest on the defensive end— it should be a good battle, I’m looking forward to it.”

Harrison is happy to have “big, strong and athletic guys” playing for him this season, however he explained it won’t mean anything unless they successfully execute on actually being “big, strong and athletic.”

“That’s kind of the challenge that the assistant coaches have,” Harrison said, “to get those guys revved up and get their learning curves to be accelerated as quickly as possible.”

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