By Budd Bailey

On Saturday, lacrosse players were roaming the halls of the KeyBank Center in Buffalo for the first time in 20 months. The Bandits were finally back home after a layoff caused by the pandemic.

Buffalo missed the end of the 2019-20 season and then all of the 2020-21 season. The resumption of play has created all sorts of issues for the entire organization, as it leaves its dormant state to play again. Bandits’ general manager Steve Dietrich talked about a variety of subjects involved in the resumption of play before Saturday’s open practice:

Buffalo Sports Page: Has this been the oddest 20 months of your lacrosse life?

Steve Dietrich: I was thinking last year that since ’92, I don’t think I’ve had a winter off. It’s kind of scary. Obviously, more stuff went on than my aggravation about not having lacrosse. It sort of puts a lot of stuff into perspective than just counting down the time until we got back into the building. It’s hard to believe that it was March that it was the last time we were here. We’re excited and it should be fun.

BSP: I would guess your job description changed drastically during the layoff. How did life change in those 20 months?

Dietrich: Even scouting became incredibly difficult. There was just no video, and some of the video I did find was two years old. Honestly, last year’s draft – not this past one – was even more difficult because there was no tape. At least you had some guys in the field this year. There were guys playing junior, some played major lacrosse. There was film out there, but the break made everything more difficult. Some of the video we had was two years old, and guys changes – especially from 19 to 21. That’s a big jump for some kids. That was difficult. Not knowing what salaries were going to be was tough. We didn’t how much money we’d have to play with, what the new cap was going to be like. It was difficult, but it was stuff I’ll do every day to get us back here where we were really want to be.

BSP: If someone signed a two-year contract in the fall of 2019, did that guy get an extension or did it expire?

Dietrich: That year got wiped out. If someone signed a one-year contract last year, it just got wiped out. It made things a lot more difficult. Some guys who had signed didn’t have a deal any more, and now they were looking for more money. We were lucky. A lot guys understood the situation and they love being here. It’s all a piece of the puzzle, and we made it work.

BSP: I assume trade negotiations were really odd as well.

Dietrich: You don’t want to give up picks, but we were lucky enough to have some extra ones. There are some guys – Connor Fields (who played high school lacrosse at Bishop Timon) – who came on the market, and you’re jumping on it. With Connor, we were trying to gauge what we think he’s going to be like as a box lacrosse player. The film we had on him was so miniscule. You try to grab what you thought he’d be. We all overvalue our own guys, and we all put a high threshold on certain people. You have to meet somewhere in the middle.

BSP: And it’s tough enough to figure out your own team. You’ve got a league of teams out there, including a new expansion team, that are trying to figure out how good they are in a different year.

Dietrich: I have a running roster sheet that I continue to mock up and move around. I think, “This guy might be available, or that guy might become available.” But you don’t really know. You look at the two draft classes coming in, with two free agent classes, everybody’s good. There are really o easy touches. It’s going to make for a really competitive league. It will be good for the fans. But for someone like myself, it’s going to make things hectic. From game to game, you don’t know what everyone has.

BSP: Is everybody healthy?

Dietrich: (Laughs.) No, no. I hope everyone will be to go for game one. For practice (on Saturday), I don’t think we’ll have 16 guys out there. It’s been amazing, in talking to the other GMs around the league, how many guys are going down with soft tissue injuries – hamstrings, calves, quads. We had a meeting with the doctors before they went through anything. They put a plan together, spelling out how we wanted to do things and how they were going to be ready. We still ran into issues. We’re hoping everyone will be good to go, but we think everyone should be OK.

BSP: Have you had any issues with border crossings in the past few weeks?

Dietrich: No. Luckily, the guys who are living here have been able to come back and forth. We were able to get our visas for the trip here about five days ahead of time. It worked out. That’s what delayed our first practice here – coming across the border. But everything is fine.

BSP: Has anyone jumped out at you so far in the workouts?

Dietrich: I’m just going to comment on Dhane (Smith), Josh (Byrne), Chase (Fraser) and Chris (Cloutier). I gave a lot of credit to Dhane and Josh. They forced everyone to work out. Steve Priolo came into camp in unbelievable shape. That pushes and pushes and pushes the draft picks. Those five guys are taking the leadership roles, and they are driving the bus.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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