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Bandits' notebook: Dawson has fit right in

By Budd Bailey

When the Buffalo Bandits acquired Paul Dawson from the Colorado Mammoth on March 12, it was easy to wonder what they were thinking.

Certainly Dawson knows his way around the floors of the National Lacrosse League. The defender been playing since 2006 when he was drafted by the San Jose Stealth in the first round … as a goalie, no less. Dawson was moved to defense in 2008, and has stayed there ever since. He was part of two championship teams in Rochester in 2013 and 2014.

But Dawson is now 38 years old, and the Bandits gave up a pair of future second-round draft choices for the veteran and a third-round pick. Did he have much left in the tank?

Apparently so. The Bandits have gone 8-1 since his acquisition, which is more than a coincidence.

Goalie Matt Vinc was part of those title teams with Rochester about 10 years ago, and added a loud opinion that Dawson could still help.

“When (general manager Steve Dietrich) and I were exploring some possibilities about who he had in mind at the trade deadline, the easy fit was Paul because of our relationship,” Vinc said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the league like him. The comfort level is there, and ultimately so is the trust. I trust what he’s going to do on the floor. I trust what he’s going to say in the locker room. I thought it would be a good fit. And it’s not just a good fit on the man-down (unit); it’s a good fit everywhere. The leadership is being shown. He’s been a captain on our teams. He’s hungry and ready.”

The statistics show the improvement of the defensive unit. Buffalo gave up an average of 12.8 goals per game in the first 12 games of the season. Since then, including the playoffs, the number is down to 8.9. More to the point, The Bandits haven’t given up more than 12 goals in any single game since Dawson’s arrival. They did in nine times in the first 12 games.

Some of that improvement is due to the return to health by some of the players. Still, things have changed for the better according to fellow defender Steve Priolo.  

“When you look at our defense from last year to this year, it’s almost a new defense,” he said. “We didn’t know if Ian MacKay was going to be on defense. We’re adding (Cam) Wyers and (Zack) Belter. Sammy La Roue has been in there, and (Dalton Sulver). At one point there was like four of us that were on the championship team yet – Bomber (Adam Bomberry) and (Bryce) Sweeting and Max Adler. It was a different defense. The reality of the sport is that we needed to find a way to hit our stride at the end of the season. Nothing else really matters.”

Priolo is a comparative youngster at the age of 35 - at least when compared to Dawson. He’s had a close-up look at the contributions of “the new guy.”

“You can’t say enough good things about the things he does on the floor,” the Bandits’ captain said. “There’s no way to quantify them. When you can speak to each other in the same language – how to defend picks and so on – he’s on board with it all. One big thing is that he was part of that championship run in Rochester where they just squeezed into the playoffs. … He was part of that. He came in to a situation that he’s been in before. There was no panic. He was just like, ‘Get into the playoffs. Anything can happen.’ That’s reassuring that way."

A tough weekend

The Bandits’ playoff schedule has a couple of twists to it this time around. The first oddity is that the team had last weekend off – its first such break all season. A team that won its previous seven games probably wasn’t in a hurry to take a break.

Then there’s the fact that Buffalo and Albany will play on back-to-back nights, beginning on Friday in Albany. It’s the first time all season that the Bandits have faced that particular test.

Coach John Tavares referred to the age-old thought that both teams have to go through this particular situation.

“Albany has to go through the same schedule,” he said. “It’s fair for both teams. We get to rest some bodies, but we are on a bit of a roll. Both teams probably would have liked to have gotten going. It’s hard to be on top of your game after two weeks off. “

There will be a chance to do some lineup adjusting as the best-of-three series goes on. Tavares certainly will look at that going into Game Two on Saturday no matter what the outcome is – or if injuries pop up along the way.

“We’ve experimented to get to our best, and we’ve been rolling with the same lineup for the last several games,” he said. “It’s easy to continue the same lineup. It’s not like we have a lot of room for movement. We’re only allocated so many players on the roster, so there’s two guys that haven’t played – Sam La Roue and Justin Robinson – the last couple of games. I’m sure with the back-to-back we might have to use one if not both of them.”

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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