The Buffalo Bandits will open their 2019-2020 season on home turf, as they welcome the San Diego Seals to the Key Bank Center on Saturday night. For Buffalo it’s the start of a redemption year, as the squad made a trip to the NLL Finals last year on the coattails of an impressive 14-4 regular season performance. The orange and black obviously didn’t come back to Buffalo with a cup; losing to Calgary, but their performance has set the bar for a promising future for the storied Bandits franchise.
The Seals are in just their second-year of competition in the NLL, and they’ll look to start that year off with a bang. San Diego finished with a more than respectable 10-8 record last season, good enough for second place in what was a tight West Division.
They will be missing some formidable offensive power in this matchup though. Austin Staats, the 2019 Rookie of the Year from Six Nations, ON put up 61 points (32g, 29a) before going down with an ACL-injury that caused him to miss the remaining four games of last season. Add in Dan Dawson signing with Toronto in the offseason, and Casey Jackson also starting the season off on injured-reserve, the Seals will have their work cut out for them as they go up against a solid defense in Buffalo
San Diego head coach and general manager Patrick Merrill has adjusted for these losses though, signing the likes of Wes Berg and Zack Greer to try and shore up that front end. Buffalo-native Connor Fields will also hope to bring some of that youthful skill that Staats brought to the fold, as the lefty Fields looks to undertake his first full NLL season with the Seals.
While San Diego has seen some major changes heading into opening night, the Bandits are trying to keep their working formula intact. The entire Bandits defensive unit has returned for this season, with captain Steve Priolo and veteran goaltender Matt Vinc anchoring the back end once again. It will be interesting though to see how much of an effect that GM Steve Dietrich has on the defense, as he has taken the defensive coaching reins on himself after defensive-minded co-head coach Rich Kilgour was released by the club in the offseason. That means of course John Tavares will take on the head coaching duties by himself for the first time in his career.
Like other NLL teams, the Bandits were not spared by expansion draft losses. That draft saw forwards Shawn Evans and Jordan Durston depart the franchise, and this opening game will be paramount to see how (or if) the offense looks different. The off-season signing of Quinn Powless to the roster certainly looks like Buffalo trying to fill the void of grittiness that Durston left the offense. Standing at 6’1’’ and 236 pounds, Powless has bounced between Rochester and New England’s practice squads for the past several seasons, but will look to make a steady impact on Buffalo’s active roster for opening night.
The Buffalo front office was also hard at work to get key players to return, with forward Dhane Smith re-signing with the team on a three-year contract. Leading goal scorer Corey Small returns to the orange and black, as does Josh Byrne.
Byrne, who was selected first overall by Buffalo in the 2018 NLL draft, made a major impact during his rookie campaign by putting up 63 points (26g, 37a). Injuries nagged him in his sophomore pro season, with the New Westminster, B.C.-native only seeing action in nine games, but putting up an impressive 42 points (13g, 29a). His on-floor chemistry with Dhane Smith has been well showcased, and a healthy Byrne and Smith together will more than likely dot the score sheet in this matchup against San Diego.
Face-off for the game is set for 7:00 p.m. ET and can be watched with a subscription on the B/R Live app which is available on the web or through iTunes, Google Play, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire. B/R Live is free for the first two weeks of the NLL season.