When the new NLL CBA was signed this off-season, every team in the NLL would have to reduce their active rosters from 23 to 20 players and increase their practice rosters from three to four. The new active roster reduction means that the league’s best lacrosse players would be battling it out even more rigorously this year for every coveted roster spot during training camp and exhibition games. Head coach Troy Cordingley forewarns, “…it’s going to be difficult. We have to get down to 20. There’s going to be some players who will be left off.”
The shorter roster was on the minds of everyone at Saturday’s Buffalo Bandits training camp because it means there’s more competition between players, difficult coaching decisions to made, and an increased demand for players to be productive in all aspects of their game. Cordingley adds, “There’s competition in all areas. The high level of competition is bringing out the best in everyone. The veterans don’t want to lose their spot and the younger players are gunning for those spots. This is going to be a tough decision with three less spots to pick. This makes our job a lot tougher because everyone is battling.” Bandits GM Steve Dietrich agrees, but warns that players will have to earn their keep. He says, “Just because you have a contract… Nothing is going to be handed to anybody.”
From the player standpoint, Bandits’ defender Derek Suddons believes that “With the league getting faster and more skilled each year, you have to make sure that you have to stay in shape and ready to go for camp. You have to show that you can run the floor, provide speed and skill and be able to contribute in all aspects.”
Also addressed in the new NLL CBA was the extension of the season from 16 games to 18 games. While this is a boon for fans, it makes it necessary for coaches to consider the physical demands of a lengthier schedule. On this, Cordingley comments: “Practice players are going to be very crucial to this league. Lacrosse is a very physical game. There will be injuries. With 16 players dressed and two players on the roster, the four practice players the Bandits have will be the key. We have to make sure we have guys that can play and will be suiting up sooner or later.”
With these issues in mind, the Buffalo Bandits hit their home turf with two on-field sessions at the First Niagara Center for their second week of training camp. Trying to put the 2013 season behind them, the Bandits made off-season acquisitions to help bolster the team in all aspects of their game from offense to defense to goaltending.
The biggest issue the Bandits faced this off-season has been upgrading the defensive aspects of their team. By trading for Mammoth defenseman Rory Smith, extending the contract of Derek Suddons and dipping into the free agent pool for Colin Boucher, these steps will help to reestablish the Bandits as a defensive presence once again. Cordingley states, “You win championships with defense. We want to be real strong there.”
Offensively, the Bandits made one of the biggest acquisitions this offseason by trading for Minnesota forward Ryan Benesch. After Benesch’s first week of training camp with the Bandits, General Manager Steve Dietrich believes he is “… the one player who has shined so far for the Bandits.”
Despite the new roster challenges the NLL CBA presents, Bandits defender Derek Suddons is optimistic for the new upcoming season. He comments, “Buffalo is tremendous and has a phenomenal fan base. Buffalo fans deserve a winning lacrosse team especially after last year. Troy is bringing a winning presence to the club. It’s important that we get started on the right foot and start moving towards a winning season in Buffalo.”
The Bandits will host an open scrimmage against the Philadelphia Wings next Saturday at the First Niagara Center.