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Bennett joins Bandits’ lineup the conventional way

When Buffalo Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo suffered a knee injury and couldn’t play in last week’s game against New England, teammate Matthew Bennett might have had a flashback to last season – when the field player became a backup goalie for a night.

“I was on the active roster, and Corey Fowler and I were both going to be healthy scratches that night,” Bennett said about a Feb. 28, 2015 game against Colorado. Then Dave DiRuscio, Cosmo’s usual backup, “had a concussion in warmups. Rich Kilgour, the D coach, said, ‘I have good news − you’re in the lineup. But you’re dressing as a backup goalie.’

“I was the closest guy in size to Dave’s equipment, so I dressed as the backup goalie. It was pretty funny.”

DiRuscio checks in at 300 pounds, and Bennett is listed at 198. The gear must have been a loose fit.

“It was big on me, but we made do,” Bennett said. “I stood there and watched from the bench. It was a different experience. I told Cosmo, ‘I don’t care what happens to you – you’re staying in. Your leg’s broken? You’re staying in.’ ”

It looks as if Bennett’s days as a reserve goalie have come to an end. He’s too valuable on the field. Bennett should be ready to go when the Bandits play the Georgia Swarm in suburban Atlanta on Sunday afternoon (2 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).

Bennett’s story about his lacrosse career is quite typical of many of the Bandits. He grew up in Brampton, Ont., and his father played professional lacrosse while Matthew was growing up. It’s another “lacrosse stick in the crib” story.

“I was born into it,” he said. “I had no choice. I’ve been playing ever since I was 2 or 3. I’ve always had a stick in my hand. It all started there.”

Bennett worked his way up the ladder as a youth, playing junior lacrosse for Brampton for four seasons. When the news came that the Bandits had drafted him in the second round in the fall of 2014, Bennett couldn’t have been happier.

“That was one of the best days of my life,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to come to Buffalo, but it was one of the teams that I wanted to go to. Growing up where I did, Toronto and Buffalo were the closest teams. I grew up watching the Rock. I always liked them, but Buffalo was a priority on my list.”

It’s rare for a rookie to come in and make a huge impact on the Bandits. Dhane Smith might be one of the few exceptions. Bennett had to watch from the press box most of the time and he learned about the pro game from a distance.

“I was one of the older guys in Junior A, and playing a lot,” Bennett said. “Coming here I knew my role. I just tried to play my role as best I could. I tried to be a sponge and learn from the older guys and the coaches. It was a really good learning experience. I worked as hard as I could last year.”

Entering this season, Bennett was one of several players who were young and athletic, as the Bandits tried to alter their approach a bit to emphasize high-speed transition play. There’s always someone looking over your shoulder in that situation.

“We definitely have a lot of depth on this team,” Bennett said. “We have a lot of guys on the practice roster that are capable of playing in the games. It’s good. It’s healthy competition. It’s always going to make everyone better. You always know that if you have a bad game, they’ll jump right in.”

So far, though, that hasn’t been much of a problem. “He hasn’t had a bad game,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “He’s just very intelligent. His body position on defense, his smarts – he’s very patient. … He is by far the most underestimated player on our roster. Nobody has noticed him except the coaching staff and his teammates. He’s an unbelievable addition to the team.”

Bennett added, “Growing up, my father always said to me, consistency definitely is the main key to being a good player. If you are there some nights, and not there other nights, that’s the difference between good and great players.”

The Bandits come into Sunday’s game with a little too much consistency in one way. They have won all three of their home games, and lost both on the road. If Buffalo has aspirations of becoming a top contender this season, that road record has to change. The matchup with the Swarm would be a good place to start, particularly with offensive star Ryan Benesch back on the active roster after missing last week’s game.

“As long as we play a full game, offense and defense, we can play with any team in the league this year and make a run for the championship,” Bennett said.