The Buffalo Bandits' "Chris Connection" can attest to the value of patience.
Forwards Chris Clark and Chris McCartan, who excelled as Section VI high school lacrosse players and were teammates at Syracuse University, are patiently waiting their chance to contribute in the National Lacrosse League. Compared to what they've been through, waiting is a piece of cake.
Both will likely be spectators tonight when the Bandits (1-2) try to end a two-game losing streak against the Paul Gait-led Syracuse Smash (1-1) at 8 in Marine Midland Arena.
Clark, who went to Orchard Park, and McCartan, who attended Williamsville South, played against each other as all-stars in both lacrosse and volleyball. Clark was recruited by Syracuse as a lacrosse player, but chose Michigan State instead. McCartan said he never received a phone call from a college lacrosse recruiter yet he spent his senior season as one of the captains at Syracuse, which advanced to the final four in all four years he played there.
"I really didn't think much about athletics when I was going into college," said McCartan, a 23-year-old student at the University at Buffalo law school. "Pretty soon I realized I needed some sports in my life and that's when I tried out at Syracuse."
McCartan, an attackman in high school, was cut in his first try to make the Orangemen, who at that time had won five national championships in an eight-year period. But he tried out again a year later and nearly met a similar fate.
"It was made clear to me it was going to be my last day," McCartan recalled. "Then one of the defensemen tore his knee and Simmy (former SU coach Roy Simmons, Jr.) said 'you're probably never going to see the field here but if you want to be a practice player, go see the equipment manager.' "
In an instant, McCartan was given new life and a new position. Gone were the days of scoring glory. His 3-foot-long stick was replaced by a 6-foot pole and his job was to challenge All-American players like Roy Colsey, Rob Kavovit, Jim Morrissey and Casey Powell every day in practice.
Gradually, the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder became a good defenseman. Not only did he see the field, he became a starter during his junior year and a tri-captain as a senior. Notre Dame's "Rudy" had nothing on him. Then, in a flash, it all came tumbling down.
"It was April 4th last year against Loyola in the (Carrier) Dome," McCartan said. "It was the worst day of my life. I took a step, heard a stick of dynamite go off and that was the end of my career."
It was the sound of the anterior cruciate ligament and both meniscus cartilages in his left knee tearing. He underwent reconstructive surgery and is just now rounding back into shape.
Clark, a 23-year-old special education teacher's aid at Orchard Park Middle School, didn't go through the physical agony in college. His was mental.
After playing three years as a midfielder at Michigan State, where he was captain his junior season, the Spartans made an unexpected decision to drop lacrosse. Clark arranged a hasty transfer to Syracuse. The transfer allowed him a chance to play as a senior but it delayed his eventual graduation from Michigan State by one semester.
Clark has spent the last two summers learning the box game with the Buffalo Gamblers. To McCartan, box lacrosse is brand new.
"It's more of a culture shock for them," said Bandits head coach Les Wakeling. "McCartan is a smart guy and we'll probably mold him into a defensive-minded player. Clark is hungry to get in and hasn't gotten the chance yet. He has good size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and good speed. He has the tools to become a dominant player."
"They're both really raw to the box game but you can see the talent is there with both of them and so is the hunger," Bandits captain Rich Kilgour said. For now, Clark and McCartan must watch.
"You have to have faith that when the time is right, it will happen," Clark said. "I've always been told that good things happen to those who wait. Things have a way of working out."