BY AARON GARLAND firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be too much difference between this year’s Buffalo Bandits and last year’s. But make no mistake — it was a busy offseason for an organization aiming for an immense turnaround in 2014.
Buffalo general manager Steve Dietrich kept much of the roster intact while adding a few pieces to recover the Bandits from a 6-10 2013 season, one of the worst campaigns in team history. Of the finalized 20-man roster, 16 players are returners.
The roster alterations, however small the quantity, were of sizable value — made to improve a squad that was the only one in the nine-team National Lacrosse League to miss the playoffs last year. And the most notable change this season will be the man behind the bench.
Fired in June was head coach since 2003, Darris Kilgour, who is the NLL’s all-time leader in coaching wins, after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in his 11 years as coach. He also played eight seasons for the Bandits in the 1990s and is an NLL Hall of Famer. It officially marked the end of one era and the start of another.
To usher in new times in Banditland is head coach Troy Cordingley, the reigning NLL Coach of the Year after going 10-6 with the Toronto Rock in 2013 before being fired unexpectedly.
He’ll have the Bandits’ top five scorers returning, including captain John Tavares, who is back for a 23rd season at 45-years-old despite an injury-riddled 2013. The NLL’s all-time leading scorer can still get it done, when healthy, registering 39 points (14+25) in 12 games a year ago.
Second-year transition player Dhane Smith will play a major role in improving a Buffalo offense that was second-to-last in goals from a season ago. Smith scored 24 goals as a rookie, tops on the team.
Forward Aaron Wilson (46 points in 2013) is another key returner, as is Mark Steenhuis, who is slated to play forward full-time for the first time since 2009. He had 39 points (13+26) as a transition player last season.
The Bandits also hit the trade market and made a blockbuster deal to bolster their roster.
New to Buffalo is Ryan Benesch, who has starred for three teams in his seven years in the league. The 28-year-old tied for seventh in points among NLL players with 84 (34+50) for the Minnesota Swarm in 2013. Buffalo packaged two-first round picks and a third-round pick for the forward and transition man Andrew Watt, who also made the final roster.
Helping to provide depth on the forward line, along with veterans Chad Culp and Shawn Williams, is the promising Joe Resetarits, a Hamburg native.
The acquisition resulted from a draft-day trade that landed Resetarits, the younger brother of former Bandit Frank Resetarits, in Buffalo from Calgary for a pair of draft picks. A sixth overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, Resetarits scored eight times and added 16 assists in 14 games last season.
The trades counter the retirements of transition player Jon Harasym and forward Mike Hominuck.
The back end will feature the physical presence of Billy Dee Smith, as well as a crew of others that also fit a tough defensive mold. Rory Smith, at 200 pounds, was brought in via a swap with Colorado to add more size. Derek Suddons and Steve Priolo are reliable veterans that will be back on defense, too.
Anthony Cosmo, as if to fit in with the team theme of redemption, will grace the crease as the starter in goal. By his standards, Cosmo had a down 2013, going 4-4 with a 13.37 goals against average. Backing up Cosmo will again be Kurtis Wagar, who proved capable in 2013, seeing action in 15 games and posting a 12.22 GAA.
Buffalo will begin its season at 7:30 tonight at First Niagara Center against the Philadelphia Wings, who are coming off a 7-9 campaign.