Calling defenseman Bill O'Brien a fan favorite in New England might be an understatement.
The recently-signed Buffalo Bandit spent the previous three National Lacrosse League seasons with the Black Wolves, endearing himself to the local fanbase through his work in the community and rough play on the floor. So, there was a heavy backlash when New England cut the former Sacred Heart linebacker from the roster in November. Some on social media even threatened to cancel their season tickets. A petition was started to bring him back.
"I got probably hundreds of people reaching out to me on social media, basically just saying they don't even want to go to games anymore," O'Brien said. "It got a little out of control, to be honest."
He decided to write an open letter to the fans, reminding them of the nature of professional sports and assuring them he'd find a landing spot eventually. He finally found one Wednesday with the Bandits, who play Friday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Saskatchewan Rush (550 AM, Twitter).
The NLL season started in December and he wasn't signed, but O'Brien continued to train like he did while with the Black Wolves. He played in a handful of tournaments, a local men's league and last week made a trip from his home in Syracuse to Oshawa, Ont., to play in the developmental Arena Lacrosse League. He said he wanted to be in peak shape if any team showed interest.
O'Brien said he thought if he didn't hear from an NLL team by week five or six, he'd probably be preparing to take advantage of the league expanding by two teams next year. It turns out, Bandits GM Steve Dietrich called right on cue. He only offered O'Brien a spot on the practice squad, but the door is open for him to work his way onto the active roster.
"Just the type of person I am, that got me all sorts of fired up," O'Brien said. "Hell yeah, I'll work for my spot. I'm a firm believer that nothing worth doing is easy."
After getting the call at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, he got in a quick workout and drove to Buffalo for medical tests. He passed those, then drove up to Six Nations, Ont., for practice that evening.
O'Brien isn't traveling with the Bandits this weekend, but with the bad luck Buffalo has had with injuries this season, odds are he'll see the floor soon enough.
Defenseman Matthew Bennett is out for the year after suffering a knee injury in Saturday's game against the Vancouver Stealth. Dietrich said the injury is to the same knee he hurt in 2016. Bennett and transition man Mark Steenhuis, listed as out indefinitely, joined previously injured goalie Davide DiRuscio and forward Chase Fraser on injured reserve.
Buffalo filled the two active roster spots with defenseman Ryan Wagner, who returns after three weeks on injured reserve, and defenseman Liam Patten, who was promoted from the practice roster. Patten, a third-round pick of the Calgary Roughnecks in this year's draft, was signed by the Bandits in November after failing to make the Riggers' roster.
Buffalo also signed forward Zach Herreweyers to the practice roster. Herreweyers played in five games in his rookie season with the Colorado Mammoth last year, notching three goals and seven assists.
The Bandits have seen plenty of roster upheaval after five games. As Dietrich put it, "We could use a break." No pun intended.