Players with Waterloo Region connections set to take to the pro lacrosse league’s floor this season:
Buffalo – Dhane Smith, Aaron Wilson, David Brock, Jay Thorimbert, Glen Bryan, Jamie Rooney
Calgary – Mike Poulin
Edmonton – Corey Small
Minnesota – Ryan Benesch, Andrew Watt, Evan Kirk
Rochester – Matt Hummel
Toronto – Colin Doyle, Brandon Ivey, Jesse Gamble
Friday is opening night for the Buffalo Bandits — three of whom call the lacrosse factory of Kitchener home.
And as the curtain rises on their 2013 National Lacrosse League season, the Bandits rookie general manager, their first-round pick and a veteran sharpshooter will lead a bumper crop of 15 players with connections to Waterloo Region onto NLL floors across the league.
Kitchener’s Steve Dietrich, who capped his off-season by becoming the Bandits’ GM along with being enshrined in the pro league’s hall of fame, has retooled Buffalo’s lineup, adding 11 new faces to the team’s 23-man roster.
How will it all shake out when the Bandits visit Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Centre Friday night for a season-opening tilt with the Wings?
“I think we look good. I like what we’ve done,” said the steely Dietrich, already staring down the competition like he did during his brilliant 18-year pro goaltending career.
Dhane Smith, the sensational Kitchener native, plucked fifth overall by Dietrich in the league’s recent entry draft, will deal with some opening-night jitters.
“I’m the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” said the 20-year-old hybrid player who will take a turn at both offence and defence for the new-look Bandits.
After leading the Ontario Lacrosse Association with a mind-numbing 107 points as a Kitchener-Waterloo Jr. A Brave this past summer, Smith has little to fear.
No one expects Smith to crack the century mark in his inaugural NLL season. But Dietrich knows a stud when he sees one.
“Dhane has endless, endless possibilities in this game,” said Dietrich. “He can have an average or a great career. It’s up to him.”
Smith, and the rest of the Bandits – including Kitchener sharpshooter Aaron Wilson – return to Buffalo on Saturday to stage their own home opener, a date with the Minnesota Swarm.
The Swarm boasts its own Waterloo Region troika.
Kitchener native and Minnesota scoring machine Ryan Benesch has joined forces this season with local product Andrew Watt and goalie Evan Kirk, who also happens to be the last line of defence for Major Series Lacrosse’s Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks.
Dietrich serves as GM of that team too, through the summer months.
Saturday’s match, like the rest of the season, is a win-win situation as far as Dietrich sees it.
“I keep my right eye on the Bandits and my left eye on the Kodiaks,” Dietrich said.
Waterloo Region products toiling in the NLL this season also include Mike Poulin, Matt Hummel and Colin Doyle.
The other eight players in the NLL representing Waterloo Region are members of the Kodiaks.
Speaking of Kitchener native Doyle, the first 5,000 fans through the Air Canada Centre’s gates on Feb. 15 will receive a commemorative Colin Doyle bobble head to honour the Rock captain and the team’s all-time leading scorer.