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Bandits' Blaze Riorden completes odd position switch

Blaze Riorden was an all-conference goaltender in outdoor lacrosse for the University at Albany during his college career. He stayed at that position last summer with the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse.

Meanwhile, this winter he's a rookie for indoor lacrosse's Buffalo Bandits ... as a forward.

Let's think about that. Former Sabre goalies Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller didn't spend their spare time putting pucks in the net.

"That's a first for us," said Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour, who remembers Quint Kessenich making a similar move for the Baltimore Thunder in 1999.

"Lacrosse IQ goes a long way," Riorden said the switch. "Being athletic and having a good stick is always important, but knowing where guys are going to be puts yourself in position to make plays and contribute to the team."

It's a rather unusual combination of skills. Riodren may have the chance to display some of them on Saturday night at the KeyBank Center when the Bandits host the Vancouver Stealth (7:30 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).

Bandits' star Dhane Smith will miss the game because of an ankle injury suffered last week. Buffalo hasn't announced its roster plans yet, but it's quite possible that Riorden will be activated from the practice squad if Smith goes to injured reserve.

Riorden's double role started when he was a youngster, as he followed in his father's footsteps in Rochester as an attackman.

"I started off with a short stick in my hand from when I could walk," Riorden, a Fairport native, said. "I broke a goalie's hand when I was in youth lacrosse. My dad was the coach, and he made me play goalie. I showed up for my first practice ... and I hated it. His only rule was, don't cry on the lacrosse field.

"In my first tournament, I was using all rental pads. I got hit and my dad was coaching. ... I ran off the field to cry in the woods because I got pelted on the shoulder with a shot. It hurt. After the game, my dad got me goalie pads, and I had a goalie stick in my hands."

The goalie equipment worked well enough to earn him a trip to college at Albany, but Riorden liked to play up front in pickup games when he had the chance. It was fun.

That soon turned into a summer job during his college years.

"Ty Thompson invited me down to the reservation in Massena," Riorden said. "He said Junior B teams were having tryouts, and I should try it. So I put on some pads, and I loved it. I was working at Wegman's, and I quit my job, and called my mom from the rez and said, 'I'm just going to stay here with Ty. ... I'm going to play box lacrosse."

Riorden spent three summers with the Akwesasne Indians, and won a Founders' Cup championship in 2015. Along the way, he discovered that he wasn't interested in being a goalie in indoor lacrosse.

"I tried it after a practice my second year," said Riorden, who picked up his first name from his Italian great-grandfather. "It wasn't for me. I knew I was going to try to be an offensive player, and see what I could do. My first year, I didn't even need a stick. I was setting picks and screens, and doing what I could do to get the goal scorers open. After a couple of years, I started to put goals in myself."

After graduating from college last spring, Riorden joined the Rattlers for the 2016 season. He played less than 10 minutes in goal, stopping all four shots he faced.

When that season ended, Riorden turned his attention back to the indoor game. He wasn't selected in the NLL Entry Draft, and could negotiate with any team.

"It was a long process," he said. "I talked to a couple of general managers. But now I'm here with the Bandits. It doesn't matter how I got here, and I'm going to make the best of the opportunity.

"Nothing compares to Banditland. I grew up as a season-ticket holder for the Rochester Knighthawks, but I always made a trip up to Buffalo to be a part of the best crowd in the league."

Riorden was something of a long shot to make the roster, but he beat out players with more experience.

"For sure, we were weak at lefty offense," Kilgour said. "We brought in 10 or 12 guys, and he worked his way in there. As we say, you aren't given a spot on the team, you have to take it."

Riorden got a first-hand lesson in playing at indoor lacrosse's highest level during the Bandits' opener. He had an assist, but coach Troy Cordingley thought his rookie forward looked a little nervous.

"There's nerves, but it's just lacrosse, right?" Riorden said. "I've got a great supporting cast. It's not just one guy out there that can win the game. It's the 19 guys suited up."

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