For the first time since Ken Montour and Mike Thompson in the late aughts, the Buffalo Bandits have a goalie battle.
Last year's starter, Anthony Cosmo, announced his retirement earlier this month after six years manning the pipes for Buffalo. With him transitioning to an assistant coach, the Bandits have brought in three players to training camp to compete for the job: Alex Buque, Davide DiRuscio and Gowah Abrams. Buque and DiRuscio are the favorites to make the team, but the Bandits aren't telling if either has a leg up in the competition.
For both, it's a chance at a full-time starting job for the first time in their career.
DiRuscio is the familiar face. He's been Cosmo's backup the past three seasons. Buque is a recent addition, a piece in the biggest trade the Bandits made this off-season. Buffalo sent forward Ryan Benesch and a conditional third-round pick to the Colorado Mammoth in exchange for Buque and forward Callum Crawford.
Like DiRuscio, Buque has been an NLL backup for three seasons, but showed he has starting ability this summer in the Western Lacrosse Association.
The Whitby, Ont., native posted outstanding numbers with the New Westminster Salmonbellies of the WLA, finishing tops in the league in wins and second in goals against average and save percentage. He only improved come playoff time. He earned WLA Playoff MVP honors as he backed New Westminster to a WLA championship.
He said he's trying to carry over that standard into the NLL season.
"I've just got to follow the same game plan," Buque said. "The hope is for this year to do the same, get to a cup."
If you look at last year's NLL statistics, Buque tops DiRuscio in both major categories. The save percentage is less than a 1 percent difference. The goals against average is more notable, as Buque averaged three less goals per game.
DiRuscio has experience with the coaching staff, meaning the western-based Buque has to make the most of these two weeks to display his skills.
"I've got speed when I go side-to-side," Buque said. "I want to showcase that, and my confidence in the game."
If none of the goalies stand out from the group, head coach Troy Cordingley and general manager Steve Dietrich both said they'd have no aversion to splitting time between the pair.
"I want the goalie to stop the ball," Cordingley said. "I don't care who it is. It could be 1A, 1B, 1C."
"Selfishly, if they each play nine games and they each play well for nine, I'm happy," Dietrich said.
While the Bandits are running practices at KeyBank Center, the most optimal time to assess the goalie group is the team's pair of scrimmages next weekend. Buffalo plays the New England Black Wolves Saturday and the Rochester Knighthawks Sunday.
"You can be the best drill player in the history of the league, but once you get into a game and you freeze or you're not as smart as you are during drills, it's not going to work out," Cordingley said. "We're going to get some answers there."