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Dietrich getting closer to return

This is a big weekend for the Buffalo Bandits but not crucial enough for a huge gamble with the health of last season's National Lacrosse League Most Valuable Player.

Coach and General Manager Darris Kilgour chose safe rather than sorry, keeping goaltender Steve Dietrich out of the starting lineup for Friday night's home opener against the New York Titans at HSBC Arena. He plans to employ the same strategy tonight (9 p.m., Radio 1520 AM; 10 p.m. via tape delay on Versus) when the Bandits meet the defending NLL champion Colorado Mammoth at Denver's Pepsi Center in a rematch of May's Champion's Cup final.

"He was really pressing to play this week but we want to give him the chance to be 100 percent healthy," Kilgour said of Dietrich, who underwent an arthroscopic procedure to repair torn meniscus in his right knee five weeks ago. "We don't want him coming back too early."

Dietrich, 36, sat on the bench. Mike Thompson -- who played in the season-opening 11-10 overtime loss at Portland on Dec. 30 -- was tabbed as the starter for both of this weekend's games and he made 51 saves in the 16-14 win Friday.

"It's tough to miss the home opener and it's also really hard to miss Colorado," said Dietrich, who set an NLL record last season with a save percentage of 80.8 to go along with a league-leading 9.97 goals-against average. "Nobody wants to get Colorado back more than I do. But we get another chance at them."

On March 24 the Bandits host Colorado, the same foe Dietrich was pulled against during a 16-9 loss in the championship game. The Mammoth (2-0) is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to a 14-12 defeat at Buffalo last April 8.

Kilgour and Dietrich both say it's probable the goaltender will be back in the starting lineup for the next home game, Jan. 20 against Minnesota.

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Bob "Buff" McCready, the first head coach in Bandits history, is back as the goaltenders' coach. He coached here during the first season of 1992 and has also worked with the Knighthawks and Vancouver Ravens.

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The crowd of 18,690 was the Bandits' third sellout at the arena but the first since March 15, 1997. It represents the largest throng ever to see a Bandits home game, bettering the sellout total of 18,595 achieved twice during that first season in the downtown arena. It is the third-largest crowd to see the Bandits at any venue and the eighth-largest crowd in league history. Several hundred hoping to purchase tickets were turned away. . . . New York's Matt Vinc, who was an All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference defenseman at Canisius College, replaced starting goaltender Curtis Palidwor 6 minutes, 4 seconds into the game after the Bandits scored five goals on their first 11 shots. He stoned Kevin Dostie just seconds after entering the game and finished with 34 saves on 45 shots.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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