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Coaches share Bandits' championship kinship

As players, Bob Hamley and Darris Kilgour were a lot alike.

Each brought fire and passion for the sport of lacrosse, a wicked shot, and most important, a winning attitude. So it's not surprising that the teams they now coach are two of the grittiest, hard-working units in the National Lacrosse League.

"They've taken their playing ability into coaching and have done it very well," said Portland LumberJax coach/general manager Derek Keenan, who was a teammate of Kilgour and Hamley on the 1992 and '93 champion Buffalo Bandits squads. "They had different types of personalities but both of them were real quality teammates and are quality guys."

The old friends will match wits from behind their respective benches at 7:30 tonight in HSBC Arena (Radio 1520) when Hamley's Arizona Sting faces Kilgour's Bandits. Both teams are 9-4, both have already clinched a spot in the postseason, and both are knocking on the door for a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

Though they'll be wearing suits and ties tonight, not so long ago Hamley and Kilgour were helping the Bandits plant the seeds of a winning tradition. Kilgour's story is quite familiar with Western New Yorkers, given that his Hall of Fame career included All-American honors as a scholastic player at Niagara-Wheatfield.

But no one, especially Kilgour, has forgotten Hamley's contributions.

"He was a fierce shooter and he taught me an awful lot about shooting," said Kilgour, who possessed one of the league's hardest shots. "I was always trying to learn as much as I could from Bob as a player."

Nicknamed "Hammer," Hamley had 44 goals, 61 assists, 105 points and 45 penalty minutes in 31 games as a Bandit, from 1992-95. He and Kilgour were key cogs in '92 and '93.

Hamley had six goals and six assists in the three playoff wins in '92, including four scores and three assists in a 19-16 semifinal at Detroit. He and Kilgour combined for 26 points in that playoff year as the Bandits won their last eight, beginning a league-record, 22-game winning streak.

"Bob Hamley was probably one of [the game's] most underrated players," said Edmonton Rush coach/GM Paul Day, a member of the '92 Bandits. "He was one of the absolute best pick-and-roll guys and he really complemented guys like J.T. [John Tavares] very well. He was a very good leader for us, always cool and calm."

In '93, with Tavares limited to a decoy's role because of a pulled right hamstring, Hamley had a goal and four assists in a 12-10 semifinal win over Boston. Kilgour sewed up another championship ring the next week, scoring with 29.7 seconds left against Philadelphia to win the final, 13-12.

"Back in your playing days you figured you would play forever," said Hamley, who ranked 11th in the league in scoring as a rookie in '92 (13-15-28) and sixth in '93 (14-19-33).

Kilgour took over as Bandits coach in 2003 after three non-playoff years out of four. He's taken the Bandits to the final twice and his squads have been postseason participants in all of his 12 full seasons in the organization.

Hamley inherited a Columbus Landsharks squad that finished last in the Central Division at 5-11 in 2002. The team improved to 8-8 in his first season as coach, then he relocated from his Southern Ontario roots to the desert southwest with his team, which moved to Phoenix and became the Arizona Sting. This will be the third straight trip to the playoffs for Hamley, who piloted his squad all the way to the finals in 2005.

"Darris coaches like he played," said Hamley, who despite all the good times in Buffalo hasn't been able to beat his former team in four previous tries. "Their team is very, very intense. But we're coming off a big weekend [with wins at Colorado and at home over San Jose]. It was probably the best in franchise history."

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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