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Bandits’ Smith hits new heights

Even Dhane Smith is having trouble figuring out why he is having one of the greatest statistical seasons in indoor lacrosse history.

“It’s definitely different,” the Buffalo Bandits forward said. “I’m not sure what it is. It’s been good from an offensive perspective. As long as we’re putting up the numbers, it doesn’t really matter what other teams are doing. Hopefully, we can hold them down, and our defense has been playing well.

“But it’s definitely been weird.”

Smith takes a staggering set of statistics into Saturday night’s road game with the Georgia Swarm (7 p.m., Radio 1520 AM). He has 48 goals and 55 assists for 103 points in the season’s first 12 games. That puts him 20 points ahead of the second-leading scorer in the National Lacrosse League, Curtis Dickson of Calgary.

Smith needs seven goals in the season’s final six games to tie the Bandits’ record for goals in a season (55, Ryan Benesch, 2015), 13 assists to tie his own team record for assists in a season (2015), and 12 points to tie the Bandits’ record for points in a season (115, John Tavares, 2001). Barring injury, all of those records are doomed.

By the way, Tavares averaged 8.2 points per game in his 14-game 2001 season. Smith is averaging 8.6 points per game.

Then there are the league records. If Smith continues at his present pace, he will break the league record for points in a season (130) and average points per game (8.3). He also would be right around the league marks for goals (71) and assists (82) in a season.

Smith has had at least 10 points in a game three times this season, peaking with 13 against Georgia on Feb. 14. His best all-around game might have been last week, when he scored six goals and six assists and tied a team record for shots in a game with 20 in the win over Vancouver. Smith has been the NLL’s player of the month for all three straight months, including March.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m doing differently,” he said. “My teammates have helped me out tremendously. The coaching has been helping me out. Confidence comes with that. It’s been one of those years when it’s been good.

“Playing for Team Canada in the fall helped tremendously, feeding off that, playing with the best players in the world. I can’t thank the people around me enough, and hopefully I can continue that.”

Benesch added, “Honestly, I think he’s finally realizing how good he is. The confidence is starting to show through. It’s something that I saw when he was playing Junior A lacrosse in Kitchener,” Ontario. “I saw that confidence and swagger, and saw how good he was. It took a few years to do that here. The coaches have instilled a lot of trust in him. He’s taking it in stride and leading this team the way he can.”

Smith obviously is a big reason why the Bandits have a league-leading 169 goals in their 12 games. The offense starts with him. That means unless someone has a scoring chance on transition, the ball is going to be in Smith’s stick when Buffalo is on offense. He can pass or shoot, and he seems to be making the correct decision most of the time.

“He’s such a prolific scorer that the ball should go through him on the right side, and through” Benesch “on the left side,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “We don’t specifically do that. Our offense is a five-man unit. Everyone is working together. Again, Dhane is a guy who is very intelligent and gets to the places he needs to go. He gets the ball and does a lot of magic with it.”

As Smith’s role in the offense has grown, the offensive players around him have had their roles change as well. That’s particularly true for Mark Steenhuis, who had been the catalyst on offense for several years.

“He used to be the star player, and he still is,” Smith said. “But he changed his game for the benefit of the team. I give a lot of credit for my success to him. He’s banging bodies for me to get open. He’s doing a great job.”

One other change in the Bandits’ offense involves John Tavares. He’s gone from the playing field to assistant coach this season, and everyone in the organization gives him credit for how smoothly the Buffalo attack is working this season.

“He’s the smartest player and the best player to ever play,” Smith said. “When he’s talking, we’re listening. He has some plays that we’re like, ‘Are you sure?’ But he knows best, and we do it. It’s been different having him on the bench instead of the floor, but it’s been a good different. Our numbers are due to him helping us out.”

Cordingley added, “I’ve been down there when JT works some system. Dhane looks at the next step. . . . He sees things that happen and sees things that are going to happen. He’s taken the next step.”

The Bandits go into Saturday’s game on a four-game winning streak. A win would move them very close to clinching a playoff spot in the NLL East with five games left in the season.

If and when they do that, they should have time for other goals in the regular season – clinching a home game in the playoffs, getting a first-round bye, etc. If they achieve any or all of them, Smith figures to be the biggest reason why.

“I’m trying to continue to do what got us here,” he said. “So far, so good.”