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The stars come out in the National Lacrosse League

Filed under: Sports


VERONA – This wasn’t the showiest or splashiest of venues. The Events Center at the Turning Stone Casino, better suited for concerts and prize fights, was transformed into Lacrosse Heaven, as the National Lacrosse League showcased their best of the best in an East v West scrimmage. At stake? Nothing more than bragging rights and an opportunity to showcase the sport before a live audience of hard core fans and national viewing audience watching on the cable network Versus.

The seating bowl and playing surface lighting was below par, the regulation sized field was, umm, a tad short, and the makeshift scoreboard and video board was your consummate basic issue. But few among the 2000 fans who almost filled this 2600 seat arena were complaining. Their stars were putting on a show, and when the dust settled, it was the East squad pulling away at the end, to put away a 30-26 victory over the West.

The Buffalo Bandits sent four players to play for the East. John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis, Chris White and Brett Bucktooth represented the Bandits, and all four figured prominently in their team’s play, with Bucktooth leading the stat sheet with 6 points, including the 27th goal of the night at 10:39 of the 4th quarter, which proved to be the game winner. Steenhuis added 5 goals of his own, several of which were of the breakaway variety. Chris White earned the only penalty of the game for the East, a cross checking infraction early in the 4th quarter, and no harm came out of that man advantage.

Neither team held more than a two goal lead throughout the contest, and the lead changed hands several times throughout the game. The teams were knotted at 12 at halftime, and at 20 after the third. With hitting, physical play and defense on hiatus for most of the night, it was playmaking, one on ones between the shooter and goaltender, and plenty of offense which dominated the game. “It was a pretty sloppy first half for both sides,” said Steenhuis. “You try that fancy stuff to impress the crowd, but eventually you try to make plays and everybody on this team has this competitive edge, whether it’s playing in your back yard or at an All Star Game. It was a better product in the second half.” As time wound down, both teams hunkered down, but it was the East which capitalized on their chances late, with Bucktooth, then Boston’s Josh Sanderson adding two goals and Steenhuis another one, and the final seconds ticked down with a somewhat anti climactic ending, when for a while it seemed as if it would take overtime to settle this one.

Steenhuis was pleased to see the game being staged in a non traditional lacrosse town. “I think holding the event here helps to attract interest instead of a city which has games throughout the year,” said Steenhuis.
“This helps the New York State teams here.”

Brett Bucktooth was beaming ear to ear, after being a late addition to the East squad, then shining before his hometown fans in his homecoming. “Anytime we have an opportunity to greet the fans on and off the floor it’s a good thing for all of us and the league.” As to the crowd’s reaction when he was introduced? “I think it was a great crowd. A lot of great local support too so for me it was a great day.”

EXTRAS –

Props to the hosts, the Oneida Nation, for the design and placement of the awesome banners and decorations in the seating bowl. Not only were the banners and logos of all ten teams hung from the rafters,but separate strip banners showcasing every player were displayed on the wall of one end zone. Very nicely done.

Our favorite Annoying P A Guy, Buffalo’s own Chris Swenson, was the game’s public address announcer and on field host during the breaks. When he wasn’t morphing into his (mostly inaccurate) play by play on the mic, he was for the most part pretty solid, trying to show no bias for either team, yet injecting a couple of his signature chants (Whose House?… Johnny Who?…) discreetly. He seems to have a good karma with the players and, dare we say it, actually added to the success of the event.

Not unexpected, but Rochester Knighthawks fans had the largest and noisiest contingent in the stands, with Buffalo a close second. We caught jerseys or shirts of eight of the teams in the crowd… no Washington Stealth or Colorado Mammoth colors spotted.