Chris Gill's 53 goals were second only to League scoring champion Paul Gait, and goaltender (and oldest player in the NLL) Dwight Maetche, in his return to the pro ranks, likewise ranked second to Toronto's Bob Watson, with a goals-against average of 11.77. The Ravens wasted little time re-signing the two Second Team All Pro selections this fall. Newcomer Peter Morgan opted for lacrosse over university basketball, scoring 32 goals in 12 games, and garnering an All Rookie Team selection.
The Columbus Landsharks lost eleven games in their second season, the same as their first, but they won two more, thanks to the expanded schedule and League. Their top scorer, the Onondaga Nation's Gewas Schindler, with 33 goals and 33 assists, finished 8 points out of the Top Twenty NLL scorers, while their "4x4" goaltender, Mike Miron of Oshawa, was named to the 2002 NLL All-Rookie Team, along with Elora, Ontario's Kasey Beirnes.
Gewas Schindler at the 2002 World Games
Former Attack assistant Bob Hamley was named the new Head Coach during the off-season, succeeding Ron Roy. "The Hammer" won two MILL championships playing with the Buffalo Bandits from 1992 through 1995. Former Ottawa Rebel scout Jeff Dowling, head coach of the OLA Jr. A Burlington Chiefs, and Rick Wilson, a former assistant to Hamley with the OLA Jr. A Kitchener-Waterloo Braves, were named Assistant Coaches.
The 'sharks grabbed Peter Lough and 'tender Curtis Palidowor (later traded to the Roughnecks) in the dispersal, and took Jon Harasym 2nd overall in the entry draft. A former midfielder at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the feisty Alberta native won a Mann Cup last summer with Terry Sanderson's OLA Major Brampton Excelsiors, where he had 9 goals and 36 assists in the regular season ( he had previously played for Lindsay Sanderson's OLA Jr. A Orangeville Northmen). Columbus also acquired Pat Maddalena (22 goals) and the Buffalo Bandits' 7th and 28th overall draft picks, in exchange for their own 3rd overall selection (Buffalo subsequently took Billy Dee Smith, and Columbus got Rory Glaves and Greg Judge). The 'sharks also re-acquired goalie Ken Montour from the Bandits.
Miron and "Monster" give the Landsharks a strong young tandem in nets, while Lough (6'2", 210 lb.), Gillespie (6-1, 195), Derek Suddons (6-2, 220) and Bonterre (6-3, 268) make for one of the bigger defensive squads in the League. Neal Powless (25 goals) and Cory Kahoun (13) do not return, and, with Steenhuis traded, Barrett Church (4 goals in 6 games), Spencer Martin (17 in 11 games) and Kyle Jamieson (4 in ( games) should see more playing time, and Schindler, Beirnes, Kyle Arbuckle (19) and Harasym will get quality help from Maddalena and a full season from Jamie Taylor. The NLL's second -worst offence (12.4 goals per game, ahead of only New Jersey last year) will have to substantially step up production to have any hope of keeping up with their Division rivals.
The Landsharks' 2003 schedule is reasonably balanced, with three intra-divisional games in each half of the season, and they leave their own time zone only once, for a February 7 visit to Calgary. They face the Saints, Rebel, Storm and Roughnecks twice, plus the Wings and Ravens.
Maddalena is a game breaker (he lead the NLL with 5 short-handed goals in the 14-game schedule a couple of years back) who should shine in Columbus; All Rookie Team members Beirnes and Miron should have successful sophomore seasons, and Harasym is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. The 'sharks remain one of the youngest teams in the League, but they will have to swim harder than last winter to stay alive, because standing still could be fatal.
The 2003 story of the Bandits begins, not on the sports pages but in the business sections, which have chronicled the crash-and-burn of Adelphia Communications and the downfall of owner John Rigas and sons and accomplices Michael and Timothy, accused by the feds of essentially blowing out their own company, pilfering billions from company accounts.
Rigas, the elder
The Bandits' future hangs on what transpires in the NHL, owned as they are by the Sabres / HSBC Arena; current negotiations are at a delicate stage, with the parties awaiting approval from the state government on an assistance package demanded by the prospective new owners, local businessmen Mark Hamister and Todd Berman. General Manager Kurt Silcott is an early candidate for National Lacrosse League Executive of the Year, for the way that he has soldiered on in the face of all of this uncertainty.
Silcott's first move was to "bring home" Darris Kilgour to be the new Head Coach, after finishing last season with Jim Nielsen at the helm following the resignation of Ted Sawicki. Silcott and Kilgour, who declined to make the move to the Mile-High City with the Power / Mammoth, repatriated Troy Cordingley from Albany, and also hired Darris's former Niagara Wheatfield High School coach, Randy Chrysler, to fill out the bench staff.
After picking up Aimee Caines in the Montreal dispersal, the Bandits selected Billy Dee Smith from the OLA Jr. A St. Catharines Athletics, 3rd overall. Smith is a lacrosse player after Kilgour's own heart, combining size and athleticism with skill and a pretty broad nasty streak. He has bounced back quickly from a pre-season ankle injury, to be ready to start his rookie season. Buffalo also found walk-on defender Ray Guze of Vancouver, B.C. at an open try-out camp, and trades have brought Kerry Susheski, Chris Konopliff, and Smith's St. Catharines team-mate Mark Steenhuis.
Tavares at the All-Star Banquet with Toronto's Les Bartley
Franchise player John Tavares, and veterans like fellow original Bandit Rich Kilgour, Pat McCready, Mike Accursi and Jonas Derks, along with Susheski, Konopliff, Steenhuis and Smith, will be expected to return the Bandits offence to respectability. Two seasons ago, the Bandits had the top offence and the most effective power play in the NLL; last season their overall goal production fell by 4.7 goals per game, putting them mid-pack in the League, and the power play fell to 5th.
Historically, the Bandits have not been known as a defensive powerhouse; goaltender Steve "Chugger" Dietrich will have to have a consistent season, and the defensive corps anchored by Chris Langdale must play well in front of him. The Bandits last made the play-offs in the 2000 season, losing a semi-final match to the Rochester Knighthawks after finishing one game behind the League-leading Toronto Rock.
Buffalo's schedule includes only one Divisional opponent, Rochester, in the second half of the season along with two games against Ottawa, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Calgary. If the Bandits could dispose of Albany and Columbus in the first half, they would hold their fate in their own hands with only the Knighthawks left to deal with in the Central.
This is still John Tavares' team, and as he goes, so go the Bandits. Coach Kilgour should make things very interesting for opponents, as he embodies the pride and Championship tradition of this club as much as JT, plus he has winning seasons as a coach under his belt with Washington. The Bandits have an opportunity to re-establish their winning credentials in the NLL with these two warriors leading the way.
On January 2, the Bandits announced the acquisition of Duane Jacobs from the Rochester Knighthawks, in exchange for their second-round entry draft pick next season. "Dewey" is the K-hawks' all-time leader in goals, assists, and play-off points. The veteran from Six Nations Grand River Territory, a practicing lawyer, agreed to relinquish his franchise-player designation to facilitate the deal. Jacobs notched 21 goals and 25 assists last winter, and added 3 more goals (2 on the power play) in the play-offs.
Ted Montour is a communications and sports management consultant from the Six Nations Grand River Territory in southern Ontario, an Iroquois community that is the most populous reservation in Canada. Six Nations is the home of lacrosse legend, the late Gaylord Powless.
A former Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) Junior player, coach and general manager, Ted resides in Ottawa, where he handled community and public relations for the Ottawa Rebel in their first NLL season. He also coaches box lacrosse in Ottawa with the Nepean Minor Lacrosse Association, and looks after media relations for the Nepean Knights of the OLA Junior B League.