When Kurtis Wagar was placed on the Buffalo Bandits’ active roster before the start of the season, the most rabid local indoor lacrosse fans probably all had the same reaction.
The well-traveled and little-used goalie was introduced to everyone in Buffalo during the opening weekend of the season on Jan. 11-12. He acquitted himself well, coming on in relief of starter Anthony Cosmo and picking up the second win of his career in a game against Minnesota.
“It was nice to get in there, and get it out of the way,” Wagar said about his Buffalo debut.
The team’s backup goalie will be ready to help as needed tonight when the Bandits host the Philadelphia Wings at the First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
It’s not surprising that Wagar was an unknown here coming into the season. He usually has been stuck to the bench, even though he’s been around the National Lacrosse League since 2007. Still, experience at the position isn’t a problem. He’s been a goaltender all his life.
“It’s something I grew up with as a kid,” said the St. Catharines, Ont., native. “I was always a goalie. I even played goalie when I was in hockey.”
Eventually Wagar had to pick a sport, and he went with lacrosse at the age of 14. He was a top player in Canadian junior play, and helped Brock University take a championship in the outdoor game. Wagar was good enough to be drafted by the Edmonton Rush in 2006, going 28th overall.
But playing time was tough to find in Edmonton, and he only saw 31 minutes of action in two years. Wagar and ex-Bandit Brenden Thenhaus were traded to Boston, but then Wagar was passed along to New York before he ever put on a Blazers’ uniform. After a year in which he only saw 5 minutes of play, Wagar more than realized just how tough the competition is.
“It’s a small league. When you’re a goalie, there are only two positions on a team,” he said.
The Titans moved to Orlando for the 2010 season. That’s where Wagar picked up his first NLL win. The Florida franchise lasted for only a season, but it is remembered today mostly because it was such an odd geographic fit for a league that is concentrated in the North.
“It was pretty good. We had a good core of guys,” he said. “What I remember most is that you fly down to Orlando with excited kids because of Disney, and you fly back with [ticked]-off kids on the way back because they’re leaving.”
Orlando went under after one season, and Wagar was taken by Calgary in the dispersal draft ... and was released before the 2011 season. Then it was on to Philadelphia for more backup duty in the nets.
“It was a joy to get picked up and play,” he said. “I was surrounded by American guys down there. It was a different dynamic.”
That stay lasted two years, but Wagar was released by the Wings before this season. The goalie hired an agent for this first time in his career, and he landed a tryout with the Bandits for training camp in December. Wagar was impressive enough there to earn a roster spot, beating out holdover Angus Goodleaf.
“The big thing is, he comes in, works hard, and takes a lot of shots. He’s willing to go that extra mile,” Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour said. “That’s what we’re trying to change our attitude to. He showed us he wants to be a Bandit.”
“It’s a really good fit for me,” Wagar said. “I want to hold on to my spot in the league. I’m only 27, and goalies get better with age.”
Wagar was solid in relief in the season opener against Philadelphia, earning a few “good game” comments from his former coaches when leaving the field. Then he allowed nine goals in 49 busy minutes in picking up the win against Minnesota.
But there’s no goaltender controversy here as far as Wagar is concerned. Cosmo is the No. 1, and Wagar just wants to help out when he can.
“I have faith in Cosmo. I hope he does well,” he said. “It comes down to the team, right?”