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Billy Dee Smith set to play against the Bandits for the first time

A player ending his or her career with a rival team is jarring to the psyche, at least at first. Think Brett Favre on the Minnesota Vikings or Mike Modano with the Detroit Red Wings.

For Buffalo Bandits fans, that's how it will feel Saturday night when Billy Dee Smith suits up in Rochester Knighthawks gear to face the team he played 15 seasons with for the first time.

Don't worry — It'll feel weird for Smith, too, at least until he gets into his usual rhythm.

"Seeing them across the line, it'll be a little bit different seeing that jersey," Smith said. "I think once the game gets going, it'll just be another lacrosse game. ... It's funny about lacrosse, whether you're playing your brother or your best friend, once you start playing you're just trying to do what you can to make your team win."

Smith was an institution in Buffalo, a mean defender who embodied the aggressive nature of the Bandits for a decade and a half. He didn't accumulate a franchise-leading 634 penalty minutes by letting opponents walk all over him. Longtime fans will remember him showing no hesitation in fighting Portland's David Morgan, a 6-foot-10 defenseman, back in 2009.

He played 192 regular season games as a Bandit, good for fourth in franchise history. He's even higher on the team's all-time playoff games list, coming in at third behind John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis. In 2015, his Bandits teammates voted him captain, a title he held for two seasons.

His departure from the Bandits came down to a difference of opinion in regards to management. Unhappy with the direction of the team, he announced he was moving on from Buffalo on Twitter in August. In September, he signed a free-agent deal with the team 75 miles away.

"As captain of the team, I thought we should go one direction and the team thought a different direction," Smith said. "I made the decision for myself, which was honestly one of the hardest decisions I've ever made."

Smith made his Rochester debut last week, grabbing two loose balls in the Knighthawks' 17-6 victory against the Calgary Roughnecks.

"The best thing about it from a team perspective is that it was a full-team win," Smith said.

Saturday's matchup, a 7:30 p.m. faceoff at Blue Cross Arena (1520 AM), is the first of four this season between the Bandits and Knighthawks. Barring injury or a trade, Smith will play his first game at KeyBank Center as a visitor on Feb. 24.

He's comfortable with the Knighthawks, playing with childhood friend Matt Vinc and serving as a veteran leader on a team with some top-notch young talent. At this point, there are no regrets.

"When you make big life decisions like that, good things usually come from it," Smith said. "I really couldn't be happier in Rochester, especially where I am in my career."

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