The Buffalo Bandits will have at least a few supporters when they play the Toronto Rock tonight in the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., TWC 13, Radio 1520 AM). Brenden Thenhaus, one of the newest members of the team and a resident of southern Ontario, will see to that.
Thenhaus was acquired from Boston in the offseason, and he'll bring his own cheering section.
"Oh yeah, my parents are definitely loving it [the trade to Buffalo]," he said. "Instead of one game a year, they get to see nine or 10 with all the home games and the ones in Toronto. They've been really excited. Some family members from Winnipeg even came in for the home opener.
"I'll have a lot of family and friends up there, so it will be easy to get my energy level up."
The forward might be playing his fifth season as a Bandit instead of starting his second stint with the team if events had gone differently. He was drafted by Buffalo out of Oakville, Ont., in the third round in 2006. Thenhaus scored four points in four games as a Bandit in 2007.
"I had a chance to see him in Junior B," Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "He mostly sat on the practice squad [for Buffalo]."
Then Thenhaus started a journey around North America. The Winnipeg native signed with Philadelphia as a free agent and played in three games there before going to Edmonton for a second-round draft choice. After scoring a total of 10 points in 10 games there, Thenhaus needed a chance to show what he could do.
He got it in 2009. Thenhaus landed in Boston and became a regular on offense. In his first season, he scored a career-high 53 points while playing in all 16 games. Injuries cost him some time in 2010, but he still had 35 points in 11 games.
If a list were made of Boston's sports preferences, the Blazers would be well down the list in popularity. Still, the team is averaging about 10,000 per game this season, and Thenhaus believes the franchise has a chance to make an impact eventually.
"They are in a sports city. If you win, people are going to come watch," he said. "It's an exciting game. They obviously have the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots. They have the fan base. It's just a matter of reaching those fans. They want a team that wins. I think they made some good steps this year, and put together a good team, but they haven't proven anything. You can put a bunch of names on paper, but that's all it is."
While Thenhaus appreciated the chance to develop his game in Boston, he always enjoyed coming to Buffalo. In a questionnaire answered less than a year ago, he called Buffalo his favorite NLL city.
"I always loved playing here," Thenhaus said. "When you come in and play before 18,000 fans, it doesn't matter if they are cheering for you or want to kill you. It's a great experience. I had the chance to play a playoff game here a couple of years ago [a first-round game in 2009]."
The opportunity for Thenhaus' return came last summer, when the league staged its dispersal draft of the Orlando franchise. Buffalo traded its top pick in that draft to Boston for Thenhaus and a first-round pick.
"We always wanted to get him back," Kilgour said.
"I was thrilled," Thenhaus said about his reaction to the deal -- completed on his birthday of Aug. 5, no less. "I never got to have the full Buffalo experience because I was still making my way in the league. So it's really exciting to be back."
Thenhaus is off to a good start, with six points in his first three games. Two of his three goals came in last week's overtime win over Toronto. Thenhaus often plays on a line with veteran stars John Tavares and Tracey Kelusky.
"I'm not doing a lot of talking out there," Thenhaus said with a laugh. "I just shut up and listen. Those guys have proven that they know what they are doing."
Kilgour added, "It's taken a little bit of time for him to get used to working with us on offense. He's obviously a good shooter. We're really happy to have him."
Buffalo's game in Minnesota on March 27 will be shown nationally as part of the new Versus television package. The starting time has been moved from 5 to 2 p.m. Mark Steenhuis revealed on his blog on the Bandits' website that he has a sprained MCL in his knee. However, it didn't stop him from playing in Saturday's home win over Toronto. Tavares needs three goals to reach 700 for his career.