Bandits bring A-game

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

The win in Colorado had them feeling good about their accomplishments so far and optimistic heading towards the rest of the season.

Few teams win in Colorado.

Yet there is still a long way to go for the Edmonton Rush, and tonight's game against the defending National Lacrosse League champion Buffalo Bandits (7 p.m.) at Rexall Place, represents their biggest challenge to date.

"They're again proving to be the team to beat," Rush head coach Bob Hamley said yesterday.

"They've started off this year the way they ended last year and it's going to be a tough game for us."

The Bandits are one of the league's cornerstone franchises, with two of the best players in the game in John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis.

Buffalo has four NLL championships and has been a finalist on four other occasions.

The Bandits head into tonight with a 4-0 record having edged out the Minnesota Swarm 10-9 in their lone game last weekend.

"These guys are the defending champs for a reason and I know our guys are excited about getting a chance to play them," Hamley said.

"It'll be a good challenge and it'll tell us where exactly we're at.

"To have them in our building, I think the fans in Edmonton are very fortunate. They have some great players over there in Steenhuis and Tavares. They're a good team and they're fun to watch and I'm sure our fans will enjoy this game."

Tavares has played his entire 18-year career in Buffalo and along with the four league titles, he's picked up three league MVP awards.

He's a 16-time all-star and the highest scoring player in the history of pro lacrosse.

Last season at the age of 39, Tavares led the Bandits in scoring with 87 points in 16 games. He then added another 19 in the playoffs.

This year, Tavares has 19 points in his first four games.

"He brings everything to our team," said Bandits head coach and general manager Darris Kilgour.

"He brings leadership, he brings skill, and he brings hard work.

"One of the things he's done for us this year is that he's the first one to go to the back door (play defence) when we get a couple of penalties in a row.

"He's one of the first guys to jump back there when we need him and he's done a great job for us.

"So it's not what he does just on the offensive end, it's what he does all over the floor and in the dressing room."

A Toronto native, Tavares was in Edmonton last year to participate in the NLL all-star game. But tonight marks the first time he'll play a regular-season game with the Bandits in Edmonton.

While maybe not as dominant as he was in the past, Tavares is still very much a superstar in the league.

"I'm definitely not as reckless going to the net," Tavares said.

"Not that I was the type of guy to put blinders on and focus on going to the net, but I used to go to the net harder.

"I never really relied on one part of the game, like speed or size, because I never had either of the two.

"I've always tried to play the game smart and tried to be a step ahead of everybody.

"I'm still trying to do that and to be more aware of what teams are giving me and capitalizing on any opportunity possible."


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