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Season Preview: Buffalo Bandits

At this point, every team in the National Lacrosse League is 0-0 and has the Champion’s Cup in sight. By May, of course, we’ll be at a different point and the field of title contenders will be whittled down to a select few. The Buffalo Bandits are no different than any of the other 8 NLL teams in that they’ve got their sights set on winning it all. Through the entry draft and other offseason moves, the Bandits believe they’ve got what it takes. So starting today, we’re kicking off our previews of NLL teams as we move closer and closer to the Jan. 2 opener.

2014 record/playoffs: 8-10 regular season, 2-2 in playoffs (including mini-game).

Top 3 returning scorers: Ryan Benesch (25 goals, 53 assists for 78 points), Mark Steenhuis (31-32, 63), Dhane Smith (20-39, 59).

Key additions: Jerome Thompson (F), Brandon Goodwin (D), Kedoh Hill (D), Nick Weiss (D), Davide DiRuscio (G).

Key losses: Shawn Williams (F, free agency), Aaron Wilson (F, released), Glenn Bryan (D, released), Jordan Critch (T, released), Joel Matthews (T, released).

Outlook: While Benesch, Steenhuis and Smith are back as the primary offensive threats for Buffalo, the depth took a hit with the departures of Shawn Williams (free agency) and Aaron Wilson (released). Both veterans had below-average seasons last winter, and the Bandits still have John Tavares and Joe Resetarits, who really found an offensive groove with 25 goals in his first season with his hometown team. Smith should see most of his time out the front door, while Chad Culp will probably get more time there as well. And the addition of Jerome Thompson will provide more depth for a unit that scored just 190 goals last winter, third-fewest in the NLL.

The biggest change for Buffalo comes in the middle, where names like Jay Thorimbert, David Brock and Andrew Watt are familiar names. Kevin Brownell is back after playing 12 games and there’s a lot of excitement regarding the potential of Mitch Wilde. He didn’t play much early in the season but played his way on to the roster late and his speed and ingenuity out of the back end has a ton of potential. Kedoh Hill is back in the league after a year away and the Bandits love the way he moved the ball in camp and exhibitions, while an offseason trade for Nick Weiss gives Buffalo another capable finisher in transition.

Defensively, Steve Priolo had a breakout season with his hard-nosed play while also flashing an effective set of wheels that produced a career-best 26 points. Whether Priolo and others have the green light again like last winter remains to be seen, because the Bandits may have more focus on the penalty kill. The downers gave up a league-high 47 goals but then again, the Bandits also had a league-high 99 chances to kill, so discipline may be another factor to consider.

But whether they’re down or at even strength, the Bandits will need veteran Anthony Cosmo to have another strong season in goal. His .797 save percentage was his best 5 seasons and backup Davide DiRuscio has plenty of upside, but is untested in the NLL. Still, the defense is in pretty good shape with Cosmo and Priolo, who has veteran runners Billy Dee Smith and Derek Suddons alongside.

Overall, the Bandits have a lot to be excited about. There’s a nice mixture of experience and youth. Having new faces always presents a risk because it’s impossible to know how it will come together until the season is live, but these are moves the Bandits needed to have if they want to compete for East Division supremacy.

The elephant in the room for Buffalo is consistency. In 2013, a 6-game skid cost them a playoff berth. Last winter, an 8-game skid nearly did the same but the Bandits caught their breath in time to advance to the East finals, where they lost to Rochester. That’s the wrong kind of momentum at the end of a regular season and while the Bandits have been solid at the start of seasons, they need to be better at the end if they want to be a Champion’s Cup contender.

Story courtesy of ILIndoor.com.