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Bandits’ Hill returns with renewed enthusiasm

TORONTO - Alex Kedoh Hill already has something in common with such professional athletes as Michael Jordan and Ken Dryden.

The Buffalo Bandit took a year off in the middle of his career to pursue other interests, just like Hall of Famers Jordan (baseball) and Dryden (law school) did.

But now Hill is back playing indoor lacrosse. He and the Bandits will be in Toronto tonight to face the Rock at the Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).

When Bandits fans had their last look at Hill, it was at the end of the 2013 season. He had been acquired from Rochester in midseason in exchange for defenseman Scott Self. Hill scored three goals in his Bandits debut, providing speed to a Buffalo team that was short on it.

But he was nowhere to be found when training camp opened the following season.

“I just took time off to do something other than lacrosse,” Hill said. “I didn’t feel like playing, and more of my focus was on higher education. I just couldn’t get motivated to play lacrosse. I thought it was best for myself to take some time off.”

The resident of Six Nations, Ont. spent his sabbatical studying traditional teachings and learning about cultural activities in his Aboriginal community. Still, he couldn’t help but keep an eye out on what the Bandits were doing. And every so often, he’d pick up a lacrosse stick.

“There were times when I found myself wishing that I was playing - more when the NLL was in the playoffs,” Hill said. “I was still happy with what I was doing with the rest of my time.

“Soon I got the feeling back, wanting to play lacrosse.”

The transition player had tried to stay in shape during the break, and was in good enough condition to participate on the Iroquois team at the world outdoor championships last summer in Denver. However, Hill badly sprained his ankle during that competition, and wasn’t completely healed for a couple of months.

Hill turned up at the Bandits’ training camp at the end of November. It didn’t take him long to get some of the rust off.

“It took me about two weekends to get the feeling back,” Hill said. “The first weekend, I had to adjust to it. The next weekend, I felt like I was in the right spot.

“It was a good feeling to play again. The players were happy to see I was back. The coaches were glad that I came back. The coaches did tell me that I’d better be ready. I came in with the mindset that I would try out and show them what I had to offer and work hard.”

Hill did that, but he still couldn’t be sure about making the final roster.

“I was checking my phone, checking my email every hour at the deadline,” he said. “I was real excited when I found out I made it.”

Hill has scored a goal and an assist in three games this season, but the coaches obviously trust him in key defensive situations. When goalie Anthony Cosmo made the final save of Saturday’s game with Vancouver, it was Hill who was there to scoop up the rebound and preserve the Bandits’ one-goal win.

“I was just waiting for an opportunity to make that play,” he said. “Fortunately I was in the right spot in the right time. I saw the loose ball, and I could seal the deal.”

“He’s done some things well, like pressuring the ball, getting the ball up the floor,” assistant coach Dan Teat said. “His offensive instincts and his stick skills are fantastic. We have no issues with his play; he’s helped tremendously and become one of our top players defensively. We have a huge amount of faith in him and he’s going to be around for a long time.”

One of the toughest parts of taking a year off is that opposing rosters have changed in the meantime. That means Hill has to take a crash course on other teams, especially early in the season. Toronto has jumped out to a 2-0 start. But the 24-year-old knows there are no easy nights no matter who is on the other side.

“We have to work hard and bring our ‘A’ game every night,” he said. “We’ve seen what happens if you don’t show up with the New England game. We’re starting to come together. ... It’s going to be a battle on Friday.”