2021-22 PREVIEW: Buffalo Bandits

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Well, a new season is upon us, and Buffalo Bandits fans have a lot to be excited about. First and foremost, it will be the first full season since the shortened 2019-2020 campaign. The last game the Bandits played was March 8th 2020, which was an 11-9 loss to Halifax. If you compare the roster from that game to present day, a lot is the same. However, there were many key additions and extensions as well over the long year-and-a-half hiatus.

Right off the bat, the Bandits re-signed Josh Byrne to a three-year extension. Byrne notched 29 goals and 26 assists in the 19-20 season, to which you could say the former number one pick was having a career year. Totaling 160 points in 38 career games, Byrne should have no problem continuing his success in years to come. Next, Chris Cloutier also received a three-year extension to stay with the club. This big body sniper is a force on the offensive side of the ball, and was second on the team in 2019-20 with 20 goals and third on the team in points with 41.

Next, the captain Steve Priolo inks a two-year deal to stay with the Bandits. The longest tenured Bandit had a career year in 2018-19, setting career highs in goals and points and his defensive prowess and ability to recover loose balls will be huge for the Bandits this upcoming year. Next, the Bandits extended Justin Martin two years. Martin comes back for his fifth season with the team, and is arguably one of the grittiest players on the roster. The defenseman has played every game since the 2017-18 season. Another loose ball machine and stifling defender, Martin should have an immediate positive impact for the Bandits. Lastly, we have the dynamic Chase Fraser signing a one-year deal. Not only a force in the faceoff circle, he adds quite the scare to the transition game and certainly the offense. Totaling 84 points in 33 career games, and ranking in the top 15 in various faceoff categories, the British Columbia native should have no problem having a big impact in many aspects of the game this year.

Now for the additions, starting with Tehoka Nanticoke. The number three overall pick in the 2021 draft played his college lacrosse at Albany and was an offensive machine in his four years for the Great Danes. Scoring 109 goals and amassing 61 assists, it seems to be inevitable for him to fit right into the already high-octane offense. We can see the connection now: the former Albany Great Dane feeding the Great Dhane Smith and vice versa. Has a nice ring to it. Next up, and arguably the most important on this list is the addition of East Amherst native Connor Fields, another Albany grad. The Bandits acquired Fields from the San Diego Seals for a first round pick in the 2021 draft (13thoverall) and a second round pick in the 2022 draft. The youngster was understandably ecstatic to come back to the 716 and the Bandits faithful are just as excited. Fields was on pace for a phenomenal 2019-20 season, as he led all rookies in goals and points and was named a Rookie of the Year finalist. Fields adds another spark to an already high powered Bandits offense. Refer back to my pun on Tehoka/Dhane Smith, now add Fields to that conversation. Dane to Dane to Dhane. Oh my word. My question becomes, who do you cover? We’ll dive into that now.

On paper, one would have to think that this Bandits offense has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with. Now yes, there are many other facets to the game of lacrosse; however, this offensive list is just sparking with talent and goal scorers, and will turn heads. As an opposing defense, what/who is your focal point? Byrne, Fraser, Cloutier, Fields, Nanticoke, Smith, the list just doesn’t stop. We didn’t even mention Kyle Buchanan, acquired from San Diego. Buchanan is a human vacuum when it comes to loose balls and has a knack for scoring nifty goals, too.

As far as the season as a whole, Bandits fans have to think that there is some unfinished business with this team. A shortened 2019-20 season was frustrating to the fan base, and certainly the players. Coming off of a loss with no “next game” in sight, there were a lot of question marks. Truth be told, those question marks were handled excellently. Contracts were extended, they have an amazing draft class, and more fire power added equals no more question marks. Not to mention the phenomenal goaltending, stifling defense, and shifty transition game, it sounds like a recipe to a very successful 2021-22 season.

Speaking of goaltenders, you have two absolute studs between the pipes. The first being the undeniable number one in Matt Vinc. A few accolades include being named NLL Goaltender of the year in 2018-19, a finalist for the MVP award, and setting the all-time league records in wins (112), saves (7823), and minutes (11,996). He’s only 39 – he gets better with age. On the other side of the coin you have the youngster Devlin Shanahan. At only 22-years-old with quite the mentor in front of him, Bandits fans have to be excited for his potential in goal within the years to come. Finally, as if the recipe for success could not get any sweeter, a vast majority of the Bandits stayed sharp as a tack, winning a championship in the PLL playing for Chaos LC.

It has been a long 21 months for Bandits fans considering the circumstances. Excitement is an absolute understatement for the city of Buffalo. December 4th, and all season long, it’ll indeed be a party.