Just two weeks ago, Buffalo Bandits goalie Zach Higgins wasn't thinking about a return to the National Lacrosse League at all.
The six-year NLL veteran, who played only one game last season, was out of a job in the league. He was preparing to play for the Oshawa Outlaws of the Arena Lacrosse League, a pay-to-play Ontario-based developmental box league.
It's a decent level of play, featuring a number of former NLLers and current practice squad players, but certainly doesn't feature the attendance and attention of the bigs. He was one of the best players in the ALL last year, earning playoff most valuable player honors after backstopping the Outlaws to an ALL Cup victory.
His focus shifted when Bandits backup Davide DiRuscio was injured in Buffalo's 21-11 loss to Rochester on Dec. 23, putting in motion a whirlwind week for Higgins. He signed with Buffalo on Dec. 26. Four days later, he was inserted between the pipes in the first quarter after Bandits starting goalie Alex Buque gave up seven goals on his first 15 shots faced against the Toronto Rock.
"You never know in this league," Higgins said. "There’s lot of goal scoring this year so far, so anything you can do to stop their momentum, it’s going to happen. So, you definitely have to be prepared to step in every time."
Higgins made 33 saves on 45 shots for Buffalo, which returns home tonight to face the Calgary Roughnecks at 7:30 p.m. (1520 AM, Twitter). He was steady working with a defense he was barely familiar with and facing a level of offensive talent he hadn't seen in a year.
"I thought he did a very good job," Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said after the game on Saturday. "I left him out there to dry. I wanted to get him as much action as there was. ... It's a little bit of an adjustment from him, but I was pleased by his effort."
Higgins knows his time in the spotlight is very limited. To start, it's unlikely he'll surpass Buque on the depth chart, despite the Bandits' starter getting pulled in the past two games. Buffalo made a big move to acquire Buque in the offseason. It would be surprising if they gave up on the young keeper after a couple poor outings.
Higgins may not even be on the roster long, as DiRuscio's injury is only expected to keep him out of the lineup for a few more weeks. The situation isn't ideal, but it's better than not playing in the league at all and could make him a favorite to land one of the four new goalie jobs created when the San Diego Seals and Philadelphia Wings are added to the NLL next season.
Higgins isn't looking that far ahead. He just wants to help the Bandits for however long he's on the team.
"I'm just looking at a good opportunity to keep playing lacrosse," Higgins said. "It's just a good opportunity to further myself, challenge myself to play against the best and prove I can play in this league."