Anthony Malcom and his National Lacrosse League team, the Buffalo Bandits, have had a lot in common this season.
Both started the season with major problems, made something of a recovery, and then suffered setbacks. Time is running out on both of them in their efforts to salvage the 2017 season.
Malcom and the Bandits will be in Calgary on Saturday night to play the Roughnecks (9 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).
The problems for the 24-year-old forward this season have been health-related.
"It initially started out with my hamstring," he said. "I came back for a couple of games, and then I had a real uncommon injury. I broke my sternum. That wasn't too good."
That's a relatively uncommon injury, and it takes a long time to recover.
"I knew exactly when it happened," he said. "It was when I was picking up a loose ball. It was late in the game, and I was running on adrenaline. I played the rest of the game. I knew something was really wrong right after the game when I started taking gear off, and everything started throbbing. I heard a bunch of clicks inside.
"It's one of those things where you don't want to see the doctor, but I knew something was definitely wrong. It's a pretty dangerous injury if you play with it."
Any broken bone is usually good for a two-month recovery time. This particular injury was tough for Malcom because he couldn't work out much while he was recovering.
"I wasn't allowed to do anything for the first bit," he said. "Then I was allowed to get on the stationary bike, but that was pretty much all I could do. I haven't done any type of strength training. You just have to trust the process - trust the doctors, trust the trainers and hope everything turns out."
Naturally, it's not easy for anyone to sit in the press box, watching teammates try to play on. It was particular difficult for Malcom during the team's 1-5 start.
"When you lose, you want to be out there with the boys, right?" he said. "It's always tough watching. You can see some things, but it's always different when you are out there playing."
Malcom returned to duty on March 17 in Vancouver, and also played against Rochester about a week later. He totaled five points in those two games. That matches his career averages of 2.5 points per game; he has five goals and 12 assists in five games this season. The Bandits were hoping he'd take a step forward this year.
The forward knows that it's tough to jump back into the lineup after such a long break and be in "game condition."
"I feel like I'm getting there," he said. "I've been in the weight room for the last few weeks, but it's about finding a rhythm on the floor. When you're out two months, you get rusty out there. I'd like to help the team more than I have in my last two games. I know the coaches are expecting a lot out of me, and I haven't come through. It might take a little time."
Assistant coach Rich Kilgour added, "You really feel for the kid. As a rookie, he did really well, and we had him slotted into some important roles. But then he got hurt. He's as tough as nails, but it's tough to come back from an injury like that. He may have come back a little early. We're trying to ease him back in."
Malcom was given more time last Saturday when he was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The Bandits may have a roster spot open now, as the league website reports that Justin Martin was placed on the Injured Reserve list (second level) on Tuesday. NLL.com also lists Matthew Bennett as a free agent, although he did practice with the team Tuesday. The Bandits often wait until gameday to make roster moves for a particular game.
The Bandits' situation became more difficult with last week's loss to Saskatchewan. Buffalo is 5-8, a game and one-half behind New England (7-7) in the battle for the last playoff spot. Not helping the Bandits is the fact that the Black Wolves own the tiebreaker between the team, so Buffalo has to be a game better in order to pass them. That's a tall order when the Bandits have five games left to play.
It may be easier for Buffalo to catch second-place Toronto in the NLL East. The Rock are two games ahead of the Bandits at 8-7, but those two teams have two more games against each other. That gives Buffalo, in theory, a chance to catch up and win a tiebreaker there.
The Bandits' last four games are against teams with winning records (Toronto and Georgia), so this is a big game for them. However, the Roughnecks certainly don't want to let a chance to win at home slip away. Calgary (6-9) is a half-game behind Vancouver in the race for the last playoff spot. The Roughnecks will be ready for Buffalo on Saturday.
"They're a pretty dangerous team," Malcom said. "They've had an up-and-down season, but they have the coaching and they have the personnel like we do. You never know what kind of game you're going to get out of them."