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Buffalo serving as NLL showcase

The National Lacrosse League's All-Star Game is in Buffalo in 2012.

Finally.

The 11th such game in the history of the league will be held at the First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. Previous games have been staged in such places as Rochester and Portland as well as at a couple of Native casino complexes.

Buffalo certainly has been a flagship franchise of the NLL for years, so it's obviously a good spot for such a game. Dave Zygaj, the Bandits' director of legal affairs, said Thursday the timing was right for this year.

"There have been other cities within the league that wanted to host the event," he said. "Last year it was outside of Syracuse for a special presentation. We have been doing so well in terms of attendance over the last two or three years that we thought it was time to reward our fans for all of their support."

"The Bandits are one of the marquee franchises in the National Lacrosse League," NLL Commissioner George Daniel said. "They lead the league in attendance. This is a showcase event for the league. We're really excited about it."

Staging an All-Star Game is a big project, without a great deal of reward for the host franchise outside of the prestige involved.

"Luckily we have the forces of the league to help us out," said Scott Loffler, the Bandits' director of lacrosse operations. "We deal with everyone, such as travel. There are four games the night before, and three of them are out West. It was a challenge to get all those guys here. Half the guys are flying red-eyes, and the other half is flying in that morning.

"There is ticketing, ordering and designing the jerseys -- it's a huge process compared to a normal Bandits game."

About 13,000 tickets have been sold for the game. The fans won't be seeing a typical indoor lacrosse game. Sports that feature contact in regular-season games, such as football and hockey, usually see scores skyrocket in their All-Star games. Indoor lacrosse is no expection to that rule.

For example, in last year's game at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, the East won, 30-26. That broke an event record for most goals.

Luke Wiles, then of the Washington Stealth and now of the Bandits, had six goals and four assists in that game.

"It was the best game of my career," Wiles said. "I started out the game and I didn't want to shoot. I just wanted to pass the ball to other guys and let them do something. The first play of the game, I passed across to the other side and it hit Shawn Evans' stick and went in. I knew it was going to be one of those nights when everything went in. Nights like that are super fun. You'd like to have those nights in the league.

"It's a joy to be out there for these games. It's a pleasure to be out there with those guys. When I'm 40, 50, 60 and can barely walk because my knees are shot, I'll think back to these times."

It's less of a joy for the defensive players, who have to try to stop world-class offensive talents without their usual amounts of intensity. Buffalo's Billy Dee Smith already is thinking of trying to get in on the offensive fun.

"I'm definitely looking to cheat a little bit more," Smith said. "I still don't see myself letting someone running around me to score. I don't think I'll be as aggressive and hard-nosed as I normally am, but that doesn't mean there will be a free lane to the net."

Smith's selection as a starter for the East comes in his first season back from a knee injury that cost him all of the 2011 season. The honor serves as a sign that he has returned to his usual level of play.

"It definitely makes me feel humble," Smith said. "It's a nice bonus in coming back from an injury -- not only to be an All-Star for the first time, but as a starter too."

The coaches for the game are Washington's Chris Hall and Toronto's Troy Cordingley. It's their easiest assignment of the year, since their only responsibility is to open the doors for line changes.

"I don't put any thought into line combinations," Cordingley said. "It's about the players and their creativity. They are the most creative guys in the world, so it's a great showcase for them."

For Hall, who just returned to the job after receiving treatment for throat cancer, it's a thrill to be on the same side as the league's best.

"Part of the excitement for me and a real pleasure is getting to meet those guys who I haven't met before or haven't coached," he said. "The rest of the year, you look at the opposition as the enemy. For a day, you get to enjoy the people for who they are."

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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NLL All-Star Game

When: 7 p.m. Saturday    

Where: First Niagara Center    

Television: espn3.com and nll.com    

Fan Fest: Begins at 4 p.m. at FNC, and admission is free to those with tickets. The first 1,500 fans will receive a free program. There will be an autograph session, a chicken-wing eating contest, and other events.    

Tickets: Prices range from $25 to $35. They are available at the First Niagara Center box office or through tickets.com. Call 888-467-2273.