Buffalo-Based Bandits: Not All Fun and Games for Teammates Turned Roommates

PHOTO BY BEN GREEN / BUFFALO BANDITS


As the owners of the house, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne warned their roommates to be careful. Sure, it was alright if the group got together to play ministicks in the living room, but there would be no roughhousing.

Yet when you’re in a house full of Buffalo Bandits, all possessing a competitive edge and the athleticism to back it up, some bumps are inevitable — even from those who warn against them.

“Sure enough, [Dhane and Josh] were the first two to put the holes in the wall,” Chris Cloutier said with a laugh. “They were just going at each other.”

The residents of that domicile, located in the Buffalo suburb of Lancaster, have changed as the years have gone by. Even after recent departures from Smith and Cloutier, the sizable abode still hosts its fair share of Buffalo lacrosse players. These days you can stop by to see Byrne, Chase Fraser, Tehoka Nanticoke, Brad McCulley and Nathaniel Kozevnikov.

In a sport in which fly-ins for games are still prevalent, Buffalo has become an outlier. Twelve members of the Bandits live in Buffalo, some of whom were brought in to work for the team in community relations and with youth programs. Those in the Lancaster home are joined in town by Frank Brown, Connor Fields, Ian MacKay, Ethan O’Connor and Dalton Sulver.

That emigration to Buffalo, combined with nearly all the rest of the roster residing in the Greater Toronto area, has helped the Bandits build a chemistry hard to replicate and form a group that enters the postseason as the No. 1 overall seed. The squad opens its path to the NLL Cup Saturday when it hosts the Albany FireWolves.

“We’re always together,” Smith said. “We’re so familiar with each other, and we haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. It’s been fun to be a part of. We’re always competing, whether it be in the gym or outside of the gym.”

Cloutier describes living with teammates as “college without class.” If you’re imagining a fraternity-like environment, Smith says you’re not far off. They certainly like having their fun, as demonstrated by an ongoing battle to scare one another.

There are plenty of unused rooms in the house, which tends to get dark late at night. They take advantage by hiding in the shadows, waiting to pop out and catch a teammate off guard.

“Josh gets everybody,” Fraser said. “Josh got Brad last week. We came home from practice and Josh got home before us. We walked in, and we were walking up our stairs. There’s a landing kind of thing and Josh was just laying down there through the railings basically making monster noises at Brad. Brad nearly started crying.”

But it isn’t all fun and games. As much as Byrne is known for his ability to leap out of dark corners, he’s also prone to toss out junk food one of his housemates tries to sneak home.

“We hold each other accountable for everything,” Fraser said. “We all take this really seriously.”







No one is a better example of the benefits of that than Cloutier, who completely transformed his body after moving to Buffalo. A former second overall pick, Cloutier was flipped from Philadelphia to the Bandits midway through his rookie season. When he joined the team and first moved to a Buffalo apartment, Cloutier weighed 275 pounds.

Within a year, he was down to 235.

“When I was in Philly, I was coming off of an injury, out of shape,” Cloutier said. “I came here and having these guys here, Josh, Dhane, be able to push me every day and get in the gym and actually compete with the other guys on the team and see how hard they’re working, that rubs off on you. It ended up probably being the best thing for me.

“Once I got here that first summer and lost all that weight, I was like, ‘There’s no chance I’m going to go home and let that happen again.”

Buffalo-based Bandits hit the gym together each morning. They also get the advantage of mid-week practices in nearby Ontario, including one every Wednesday night. That’s a luxury not every NLL team enjoys.

“Since I’ve been a part of the coaching staff, I’ve been in favor of having guys attend practice,” Bandits head coach John Tavares said. “We used to have guys that lived in [British Columbia] that we literally would fly in and out on the weekends for games. It just makes a difference when you’re at practice. It makes it better for team camaraderie.”

With all the time spent together, these Bandits are more than just teammates.

“I’m with them every day,” Cloutier said. “We do everything for each other. These guys have become more than just my friends. They’re like my brothers. If they ever need me, no matter where, no matter when, I’ll be there for them. It goes beyond just our team.”

Buffalo enters the postseason at 14-4, aiming for the franchise’s first championship since 2008. A title is much closer in the rearview mirror for many of its players who won it all last summer with Chaos Lacrosse Club of the Premier Lacrosse League.

Smith, Fraser, Cloutier, MacKay, Byrne and Max Adler all experienced the emotions that come with finishing the season on top.

“I think winning that PLL championship helped us,” Smith said. “It taught us how to win and what we needed to do to take that next step. Winning is the most important. Winning is contagious.”

With a veteran-laden lineup stocked with talent at every position, it is safe to say it is championship or bust for the Buffalo Bandits. As the going gets tough over the next few weeks, they’ll always have tight personal bonds to fall back on.

“This is definitely a very special group,” Fraser said. “You definitely don’t see this ever, honestly. We’re all pretty lucky to be involved in this group. Everybody’s got the same mindset, the same attitude, the same drive.”

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