New schedule, new opportunities.
The Buffalo Bandits will get not one, but the first two chances to play beat the champ according to the revised National Lacrosse League schedule, made necessary after a labor dispute led to a nine-day "cancellation" of the 2008 season.
Because the teams were directed by the league to release their home dates Oct. 16, this "uncanceled" season will look unlike any other.
First off, the Bandits will play nine home games instead of the traditional eight. That's because they are the secondary tenants at HSBC Arena and were still left with their desired playing dates, unlike many of their foes who rank third, or even fourth, in the pecking order for available dates.
And instead of 14 teams, as had been planned for this season, the NLL with play with an even dozen. The Arizona Sting, which reached the Champion's Cup final twice in the last three years, won't come along for the ride in 2008, nor will the expansion Boston Blazers. A dispersal draft involving players on their rosters is planned for some time this week. Both franchises intend to play in 2009.
"The lack of negotiations between the NLL and the Professional Lacrosse Players Association this summer andsubsequent uncertainty negatively impacted our planning for the 2008 season," said Sting governor and former Buffalo Sabres executive Doug Moss. "After our review [of the team's financial prospects], we made a very difficult decision to declare inactive status."
The Bandits, who have qualified for the playoffs every season since Darris Kilgour, the team's head coach and general manager, returned in 2003, should find out quickly where they stand in the new-look NLL. They'll open their 17th season at home Jan. 11 against the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks, who won their final 15 games last year. The Bandits hold the league record with 22 consecutive victories from 1992-94. The Thruway rivals will have a rematch the next evening in Blue Cross Arena.
Five of the Bandits' first seven games will be away from home, including a Feb. 8 trip to Calgary where they'll likely face goaltender Steve Dietrich. Buffalo traded the 2006 NLL Most Valuable Player, the Bandits' franchise leader in wins and saves, to the Roughnecks during the summer.
Six of the final seven games will be at HSBC Arena, where the Bandits are 64-35 all-time. An East Division rival, the Minnesota Swarm, shuffles off to Buffalo twice (Feb. 16 and March 8), while the Bandits won't make an appearance at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Bandits' series against their long-time rivals, the Toronto Rock, begins Feb. 15 at the Air Canada Centre and wraps up March 22 here. Toronto is the only other team to receive an extra home game while the New York Titans, who play in busy Madison Square Garden, have just six.
Two foes from the West come calling the last month, the 2006 champion Colorado Mammoth -- who won the title at HSBC Arena -- on April 5 and the Portland LumberJax in the season finale April 26.
"Hopefully [the extra home game] is a nice bonus for our fans," said Dave Zygaj, the Bandits' director of lacrosse operations. "We're very happy with our home dates, which stayed exactly the same [as the first version of the schedule]."
Bandits season tickets are now on sale. Tickets can be purchased at the HSBC Arena Account Services Office, on line at www.bandits.com, or by calling (888) 467-2273. Season ticket holders wishing not to attend the additional home game (against Portland) will have the ability to opt out at no charge.
The Bandits will host an open practice, select-a-seat day, and autograph session at HSBC Arena on Saturday, Dec. 8. Further details will be forthcoming.