When the time came for the Buffalo Bandits to make their decision on the 21st overall selection in the 2009 draft, GM/head coach Darris Kilgour placed his faith in 6’5” 235lb defenseman Steve Priolo from St. Catharines, Ontario to one day become the team’s defensive linchpin they deserved.
Heading into his sixth season with the Bandits, Priolo has finally proven himself to his coaches and the rest of the league that he finally deserves his due as being one of the top defensive players in the NLL. Priolo’s recognition by his peers, the press and the league as a whole was definitely not an overnight success story. Priolo’s love of the game, dedication to his craft and perseverance in bettering his abilities helped him truly ascend year by year and his current success is a testament to that.
After being drafted by the Bandits, Priolo finally received the call up he had been waiting for from Kilgour and joined the Bandits starting roster on January 9th, 2010. In his first ever NLL career game, he faced the Rochester Knighthawks on the road at the Blue Cross Arena. Priolo began to show the first glimpses of his current success during that game by recording one assist and two loose balls.
One of the key reasons why Priolo had found success in that first game and the rest of his career so far as a defender is the NLL is due to his six-foot-five frame. Priolo’s long wingspan helps to make sure to keep offensive specialists at bay with either a firm shove or ability to stretch even further to pick off the pass. The others assets of Priolo’s physique that have also contributed as well is his long legs and 235lbs of weight. Priolo’s legs help him to cover long distances in short time and his weight/muscle definitely packs enough punishing force to knock the opponent off their balance and help him to recover the loose ball.
For Priolo, his first two seasons with the Bandits were the true growing pains for the young defenseman. His game at that time was more known for his defensive capabilities and his ability to transition the ball up the floor with speed and finesse. In 2010 and 2011 combined, Priolo accounted for 13 points (all assists) and 66 loose balls in 23 games.
While Priolo was making his reputation as being an absolute terror at the back end due to his aggressive style of play and tenacity, this also led to the side effect of him racking up many penalty minutes as well. Those first two seasons had the local press and the players around the league giving Priolo the reputation of an enforcer as he had no problem throwing down the gloves and his combined 66 penalty minutes is the proof.
In the way that the game and the NLL have changed over the years from a more physical/fighting type of game to an explosive, more emphasis on scoring/transition type of game, Priolo knew he had to evolve as well if he wanted to continue his career in the NLL.
“The way the game is changing, I had to adapt my game,” Priolo said. “The league was a lot more aggressive and had more fighting when I came in. We still have that, but there’s more pushing the ball up the floor now.”
The first signs of his evolution into a true dual transition/defensive threat began to take shape during the 2012 season. While he was still racking up the penalty minutes with 35 that season, Priolo’s offensive output began to show signs of life as he recorded the first two goals of his career along with three assists and 34 loose balls. In his fourth season with the Bandits, Priolo’s offensive play improved once again with another two goals, five assists and the one stat that truly showed the progress in his development was 76 loose balls (double his career best and second on the team).
With Priolo’s offensive and defensive game constantly on the rise year in and year out, his play was finally beginning to put Bandits staff and NLL insiders on notice. One person in particular who was taken by surprise by Priolo’s progress was Bandits GM Dietrich.
“To be honest with you, when I took over Steve was one of the guys who was an afterthought,” Dietrich said. “I didn’t give him much respect. I didn’t know how good he was. But he got in the lineup, and opened my eyes. He can throw his weight around, use his fists and he plays good positionally. He’s great in the locker room, a future captain. He’s just grown in leaps and bounds.”
After the 2013 NLL season had wrapped up, Priolo was looking to give himself a major push during the summer in preparation for his fifth season to truly be the breakout season he was hoping for.
“I definitely feel like I’ve grown into my own on this team. I’m getting older and taking a much bigger role.” Priolo said. “I’m playing on two teams this summer in order to keep my fitness up. This season I’m expecting even more out of myself.”
When he began his fifth season in 2014, I don’t think anyone, including Priolo himself were able to predict the breakout monster success that would come his way.
Priolo established career highs in goals (8), assists (18) points (26) loose balls (99), forced turnovers (31) and even penalty minutes (65) over 18 games played. After tallying an additional two assists during his two games in the playoffs, he was named a finalist for 2014 NLL Defensive Player of the Year.
Heading into the 2015 season, hopefully Priolo will once again be able to improve on his stellar play and maybe this year will be the year that he finally receives that elusive defensive player of the year trophy.