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Bucktooth's emergence comes at just the right time

Good things come to those who wait.

Buffalo Bandits rookie forward Brett Bucktooth didn't exactly tear up the National Lacrosse League during the first three quarters of this season. But now that he's gotten his feet wet and regained his health, he's become the weapon the Bandits envisioned entering the postseason.

"I'm building each day and each practice for the championship run," said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bucktooth, who turns 24 on Wednesday. "I think I went through all the jitters during the early part of the season and I think I've conquered them. Playoffs bring out the competitive edge, it's where the great ones step up. . . . I can't wait to get started."

The Bandits (10-6), who meet the Minnesota Swarm (9-7) at 2 p.m. today (Radio 1520 AM) at HSBC Arena in a first-round encounter, used the third pick of last September's NLL Entry Draft to select Bucktooth.

"The first four or five games he was still playing like a rookie, trying to feel himself out," said Bandits assistant coach Ron Henry, who runs the offense. "But the last five games or so he's really stepped up his game. He's been on the power play and I really like using him on the short-handed [unit] to work the ball. He can create and makes things happen."

Bucktooth, who tallied 68 goals and 111 points in four seasons at Syracuse University, didn't score a pro goal until his fourth game. Then he sat out five of the next seven contests while nursing a nagging hamstring injury.

But he finally found his scoring touch with three goals and two assists in a 15-10 win over the Chicago Shamrox on March 31, then followed up with the second hat trick of his career in a 15-5 romp over the Arizona Sting a week later. He finished his rookie season with 12 goals and 14 assists, all but five of the scores coming in the final quarter of the year.

"He pulled his hamstring early in the year and it just escalated," said Buffalo assistant coach Troy Cordingley. "He wasn't doing the things he could do because he was only at 75 percent. He still wanted to play because we have so much offense and he didn't want to lose his spot. So it was a Catch-22 for him. He's finally become healthy and relaxed, and doing the things he can do best."

Bucktooth's confidence never wavered.

After all, the Onondaga Nations native ranked sixth in the nation in goals per game (2.47) during his senior season with the Orange. While Bucktooth was in the Syracuse program, the Orange won a national championship in 2004, reached the final four three times and competed in the NCAA Tournament four times.

Then last summer, Bucktooth had 14 goals and 20 points in eight games with the Iroquois Nation, leading his team to a fourth-place finish in the World Lacrosse Championships in London, Ont.

"He's got the World Games and the Syracuse swagger, but now he's got to bring that up to this level," Henry said. "There's a fine line you walk between cocky and confidence. But I think he's adjusting and taking everything in stride."

The soft-spoken Bucktooth faced a bit of a dilemma early in the season.

"I was nervous just because I was playing with so many great players and I didn't want to step on anybody's toes," he said. "So maybe I couldn't find my game right away. My shot selection was a little off because maybe I'd rush it, or take a little bit too much time. But now that I've adjusted to the flow of the team and the game, it's coming together at a really good time of the year.

"I'm learning from the best players in the world so I wouldn't want to be in any other place. It's been a great learning season."

Nobody questions Bucktooth's talent or his dedication.

"In practice, I try to line up against him or Mark Steenhuis because they're two of the fastest and most athletic guys," said Bandits All-Star midfielder Pat McCready. "I think they're the hardest to cover because they're so quick and can change direction at any given time. That's what makes them so hard to cover. Brett is a very quiet guy but also a good student of the game. If he keeps his head where it is right now, becoming a star is something that's going to happen."

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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