Bandits coach Troy Cordingley and his players have had a difficult 2017 season. (Photo by Harry Scull Jr.)

Buffalo Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich and the team's fans felt sick to their stomachs when watching last week's meltdown against the Georgia Swarm.

The difference between them was that the fans could leave early and try to forget about it. Dietrich had to stay and watch all 60 dispiriting minutes.

"To be honest, I had a feeling of utter embarrassment," Dietrich said. "We played a good team. Georgia is fantastic with oodles of talent. But I don't think we're an ugly stepchild to them.

"I was more embarrassed because of the night it happened on. With all the reasons we had to be fired up, and to have it happen at home in front of our fans, who deserve more, it was just embarrassing."

The loss eliminated the Bandits from the playoff race. Saturday night's game with the Toronto Rock at the KeyBank Center (7:30 p.m., Radio 550 AM) has no postseason implications for Buffalo, one of the few times in team history that has happened.

Dietrich was willing to look back a little before discussing the team's future, as unpleasant as reviewing the worst home loss in team history might be. One of the difficult parts of the Georgia game was that he didn't see it coming.

"I don't have an answer for what happened," he said. "Coming off the week before, we had battled hard. We beat Toronto, and had to play a second straight night against Georgia - but we battled with them there too. I thought we could beat them in Buffalo. Instead, we laid down. That's disappointing."

Part of the problem in the game was that the Bandits lost Dhane Smith unexpectedly the morning of the game, when he stepped on a lacrosse ball and injured his ankle. Defender Steve Priolo said everyone's spirits immediately sank when word got around that Smith wouldn't play that night.

Dietrich understands those feelings, but he believes the team has to be more resilient than that.

"You lose your best players sometimes," the general manager said. "Steve was right about how we reacted, but it has to be 'next man up.' ... Every team has things go wrong. But if we look at ourselves that we are so mentally weak that the loss of one player can throw us into the doldrums, then we're in trouble."

It's one thing to Dietrich for his team to lose, but it's another to go down without a fight. The lack of effort helped make the loss to Georgia one of the low points in Bandits' history.

Assistant coach "Rich Kilgour and I talk all the time about the teams we played on together here," said Dietrich, a former Bandits player. "They weren't nearly the best team on paper, but they had cohesiveness. Everyone had a role. We never won a championship, but we were always competing for one. We always gave a supreme effort.

"It's confusing. Everyone can use injuries as an excuse. We've lost some guys, and others have played when they shouldn't have been playing. But at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are. And we're staring at last place. It's embarrassing."

Losing seasons are often followed by changes in management and coaches, as Buffalo's pro sports fans know all too well after seeing major moves by the Bills and Sabres in the past few months. There is more pressure to win in Buffalo than in other National Lacrosse League cities, because the team is so successful at selling tickets. Those fans want to see the Bandits win, and some may walk away if the team isn't a contender.

The argument against blowing up the team's management, including head coach Troy Cordingley and his assistants, is that these were the same people that led the Bandits to the NLL finals a year ago. They didn't lose their intelligence in a year.

"Every year, we'd gotten better and made the championship round," Dietrich said. "Is it fair to make a change after one bad year? And I could be lumped in with the coaches. Who knows? I don't know if I'll be back. I just hope I'm given the opportunity to stay."

When the season ends, Dietrich will sit down with team executive Scott Loffler and discuss the future. Assuming Dietrich is still around, he'll have meetings with players and coaches to talk about the situation.

The roster composition for next season will come under close scrutiny. Dietrich and the Bandits made few changes in the team that reached the finals in 2016. But after a season that already has broken the club record for losses in a year, such loyalty won't be an issue in the months to come.

The Bandits have some 30-something veterans who have meant a lot to the franchise, and who have given everything they've had to the Bandits. Anthony Cosmo already is talking about retirement, and others no doubt have thought about it. Is it time to start to change part of the nucleus of the team?

"We have to be honest," Dietrich said. "Can we have them back, or do we need to replace them with younger guys? They are warriors, but at the end of the day you're not going to beat Father Time. Probably some guys won't be back. You can't be a 6-11 lacrosse team and have a bunch of over-30 guys parading around the room. We need to get younger and better."

The only good part about losing frequently in lacrosse is that the team will have one of the top draft choices in fall. Buffalo will go either first or second, with a loss on Saturday guaranteeing the No. 1 pick.

There are no once-in-a-generation talents like John Grant Jr. or John Tavares available. Still, it's said to be a very good draft year, and the Bandits will get someone good with that early first-round pick.

"It's a lot easier to find a defender late in the first round or the second round than it is to find an offensive stud," Dietrich said. "There are some very high-end defenders in this draft that could go first overall, but we have to look at where we are. Everything being equal, if there's a superstar offensive player available, you take him. But it all depends on what we need, and what else we're able to do."

For the past few years, the Bandits have been the only playoff team among the pro sports teams in town - and now that distinction is gone. Dietrich understands the level of frustration of the fan base.

"It's tough for the city of Buffalo," he said. "The Bills have struggled, the Sabres are out of the playoffs. The people in Buffalo are pulling their hair out. We're all trying to turn things around. We're not taking this lightly.

"The one good thing about a nine-team league is that you can get better in a hurry. We plan on it. We hate losing. We have guys on the coaching staff that want to win a championship. We haven't won a championship since 2008, and we'll do everything we can to get one."

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