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  • Budd Bailey

The Interview: Steve Dietrich

The Buffalo Bandits have been in a good mood during training camp this month. And why not? They finally picked up a long-awaited championship in June when they won the National Lacrosse League title. General manager Steve Dietrich talked about the title and what comes next in an interview with Budd Bailey.

Buffalo Sports Page: Was this the best summer ever for you?

Steve Dietrich: Yes, it was a lot better than the last couple. It was one of those years when you want to keep watching and you want to keep reliving things. And then, it was a case of “When do I move forward?” Last week was a good starting point, in that it kicked me back into reality. It was fantastic what we did last year. But now we have to see about what’s next.

BSP: Did you ever go back and watch all the playoff games from last season?

Dietrich: All of them. I think watched them for the last time a couple of weeks ago. I said, that was it. We can enjoy it, but it’s time to move on.

BSP: You probably had the same reaction I did to the playoffs. When you had everyone healthy, including Josh Byrne, I couldn’t believe how well your team played throughout the playoffs. You were demolishing everybody. It’s not like we didn’t think the team was capable of it. But still, that run of excellence had to be thrilling and a little bit surprising.

Dietrich: Obviously, it’s been a slow build. We knew what we had. We didn’t know we were going to be that dominating. We got on a bit of a run, and things started to go well for us. The big thing was that these guys believed. I’m not saying they didn’t believe before that, but they were on a mission from Day One last year. I think Day One was the kick that we needed, when Albany came in here and beat us. It was if we said, OK, the time for pouting is over; let’s get going. From that point over, there was such a mental state in that locker room. It was going to take a heck of an effort from someone to beat us. I give credit to that from the leadership group all the way down to every man on the team. Really, it was nothing that we (the coaches) did. It was those guys. They were ready. When the chips were on the table, they really came to play.

BSP: Now that you’ve won a championship, fear number one might be – “Let’s not get complacent. We’ve got another goal. That doesn’t matter any more.” How do you make sure that you can keep that level of play? It’s almost a different mindset.

Dietrich: It is, but that same leadership group that helped us get over the hump is back. Matt Vinc is 41; he looks like he’s 20 but he’s 40. Some other guys are getting up there. Maybe they will look at it as “This is our last shot” or “Next year will be our last shot.” They understand that the end is closer than the beginning. I think they have that drive. They don’t want to waste years because they don’t really know how much they have left. I’m not really worried about the complacency aspect of it. I worry that obviously there’s a bull’s-eye on us. Other teams have gotten better. A lot of things went our way last year. Teams are a lot closer to us than a lot of people think they are because of the scores. I worry about everyone catching up to us.

BSP: Every general manager in your shoes has the decision on how many people from that championship team to keep. Rosters always change from year to year, but the last group was so good you hate to break a winning combination. What is your thought process about that?

Dietrich: Ethan O’Connor was a big piece, and now he’s gone to Rochester. So the door is open for someone that we’ve drafted or brought it. I think we have to look back to 2016. We thought we were better for what we were. We caught lightning in a bottle, and we lost to Saskatchewan, but still brought everyone back. And then we finished last the following year. We learned our own lesson. After 2019 and 2022, we’ve always made changes. There will be changes, and they will be difficult. This year, more than any, it’s hard to say goodbye to people. But with injuries and with Ethan leaving on his own accord, that’s going to happen. If some of the young guys make it even tough to make decisions, then good on them.

Cam Wyers is a guy that we drafted in the first round last year, and he went back to school. He has a hamstring issue right now. I’m excited to see him. There are a lot of guys we drafted a few years ago that I’m excited to see now – Austin Blumbergs, Ryan Sharkey, Christian Watts and Zach Belter. A lot of these kids are coming into their own, and they are showing very, very well here. They are pushing some of the guys that are here.

BSP: I’ve heard that Watts, who is from East Aurora, looks really comfortable at this level.

Dietrich: Christian has played well so far. He fit into the offense well. He wasn’t tentative. None of the guys were. They all went out and played. That’s the fear that you have for guys who haven’t played an incredibly high level of lacrosse. We have such a short – technically two weeks – period before we make cuts that if you are tentative at the beginning, you’re basically playing catchup. But they fit right in and played well in the scrimmage.

BSP: Do you have any injuries that might leak into the beginning of the season?

Dietrich: I don’t think Adam Bomberry and Bryce Sweeting will be ready to start the season. That’s two big losses on the left side. Cam along with Dylan and Justin Robinson are three more guys that we don’t know about. We are hoping to get them going. The longer they are away, the fewer practices they’ll have before the season starts – which makes it more complicated for the coaching staff.

BSP: Any contracts that still have to be worked out?

Dietrich: No, thank God (laughing). I think this is the first time in a while that in the first week of camp that everyone is done. Getting Dhane (Smith) signed to a long-term extension was big for us. Five years is unusual, but it’s starting to trickle in. Some guys are starting to sign longer deals. Dhane is a cornerstone piece for us. He’s committed to us and the city of Buffalo. He’s moved here. We’re excited to get Matt signed for two years. That was big for us. I know we’re trying to get Josh (Byrne) on a long-term deal, so that we know we have the core in place.

BSP: Any new rules we should know about this year?

Dietrich: Coincidental minors are now played at four-on-four instead of five-on-five. They aren’t going to do video replay of goals in the last two minutes if the lead is not within five goals. There’s nothing substantial.

BSP: It seemed like a stable offseason for the league. The only news I seemed to notice was when Toronto acquired another good player. It sounds like that rivalry will turn up a few more degrees.

Dietrich: Yeah, I give (Rock owner) Jamie Dawick credit. He never stands pat. If they don’t win, he tries to get better. Having Mark Matthews and Chris Boushy should definitely help their offense. They lost a little bit with Stephen Keogh, Dan Dawson and Latrell Harris leaving. That will hurt. They’ve done some great things, and getting Chris Corbeil for the full year – it’s going to be fun.

But for the first time in as long as I can remember, we don’t have to worry as much about Toronto. With all of the teams in one division, Toronto is just like Vancouver and Vegas. There’s no East/West any more. I’m excited to know that we might not have to go through Toronto every year, or that we can go up against Vancouver in a playoff game. I think adds new excitement. I’m sure the fans were getting a little sick of seeing Toronto and Rochester over and over again in the playoffs. To see Vancouver or Calgary some times will be good.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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