OAKVILLE, Ont. - The Buffalo Bandits had two winners of the National Lacrosse League’s seasonal awards in a ceremony on Tuesday night. One of them picked up the top honor in the sport.
Dhane Smith of the Bandits was selected as the league’s most valuable player. He’s only the third Bandit to be so honored; the others were John Tavares and Steve Dietrich.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Smith said. “The other two finalists are great players, and there could have been 20 others in the league who could have been nominated.”
“It’s so cliche, but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid,” Dietrich said about Smith. “He works so hard. I don’t know if he’ll become another John Tavares, but he’s really picked up John’s work ethic.”
In addition, Buffalo’s Dietrich was picked as the NLL’s top general manager for the 2016 season. He finished ahead of John Arlotta of Georgia and Rich Lisk of New England.
“It’s great, but I’d gladly trade 10 of these for a couple of wins last June,” Dietrich said, referring to the team’s loss in the NLL Finals to Saskatchewan.
To complete the night, Tavares - the greatest Bandit of them all - was formally inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame. He was joined in receiving the league’s highest honor by Tracey Kelusky, another ex-Bandit, and Josh Sanderson.
Tavares paid tribute to the other inductees, and then reviewed his lacrosse life during his acceptance speech. It all started in a park in the Toronto area, and he never thought it would lead him to a professional career - let along induction into the Hall of Fame.
“I truly played for the love of the game,” he said in the speech. “It’s amazing where love and passion can take you in life.”
Smith finished with 72 goals and 137 points, both league records. He was picked over Shawn Evans of New England and Mark Matthews of Saskatchewan.
Some of his teammates came to the ceremony, and he brought them up to the podium to share in the moment at the end of his thank-you speech. He said he was a little nervous.
“I’ve played in front of 18,000 people in Buffalo, but speaking in front of a couple of hundred is a different story.” he said afterwards.
Dietrich was honored for putting together a team that won the East Division of the NLL, setting an team record for wins in a season in the process. The Bandits went on to reach the NLL Finals for the first time since 2008.
“I didn’t see this coming,” he said. “We have such a team in Buffalo; we do things as a collective group. This award goes to everybody.”
In addition, Brad Self was picked as the top transition player of the year. He had been a member of the Bandits for about 24 hours when he was given the honor by the league. Self was traded to the Bandits by the Rochester Knighthawks for a second-round pick during Monday night’s NLL Entry Draft.
The night’s other winners: Sportsmanship Award - Ben McIntosh of Saskatchewan; Executive of the Year - Lee Genier of Saskatchewan; Coach of the Year - Glenn Clark of New England; Air Canada Wingman of the Year (passing and playmaking): Callum Crawford of Colorado; Teammate of the Year (dedication and teamwork): Mike Poulin of Calgary; Goaltender of the Year: Evan Kirk of New England; Rookie of the Year: Randy Staats of Georgia.
Tavares’ career is unlikely to be duplicated. He spent 24 years in the NLL, all with the Bandits. He retired as the league leader in games played, goals, assists and points. Tavares helped the Bandits win four championships, and he was the league’s most valuable player three times. The forward was the first unanimous selection for the Hall in league history.
The ceremony completed quite a year for Tavares, who had his number retired by the Bandits before a sellout crowd during the 2016 season.
“It is tough to compete with that night, not to take anything away from this,” Tavares said in comparing the two honors. “It’s really something to have your jersey number retired in front of the fans; it’s so intimate. But this also means a lot to me.
“Both are nights I’ll never forget.”