Derek Suddons remembers how he was introduced to the game of lacrosse when he was growing up in Whitby, Ont.
“A good friend of mine at the end of the street had this funny-looking stick,” he said. “He was scooping up the ball, throwing it against the wall. He had a little game going on in his backyard.
“I started playing in a house league, fell in love with it, and had a stick in my hand most of the time when I was growing up.”
Suddons still has that stick in his hand. He’ll be carrying it around the First Niagara Center tonight when he and the Buffalo Bandits play the Colorado Mammoth (7:30 p.m, nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
Suddons remains the big kid in the neighborhood in a sense, and in indoor lacrosse that usually means a player becomes typecast as a defenseman. He’s been playing that position ever since his final years in junior lacrosse.
“There’s not a lot of glory in playing the defensive role,” he said. “If no one notices you, you’ve had a pretty good game. At a certain point, you have to understand that defense is as big a part of the team as offense.”
Suddons obviously had plenty of good games in junior. He was taken fourth overall by the Columbus Landsharks in the 2001 entry draft, and was a teammate of Bandits Mark Steenhuis and Jon Harasym in his two years there.
When the Columbus franchise moved to Arizona in 2003, Suddons moved east ... to Toronto. Not only did he have the chance to play with current teammates Anthony Cosmo and Aaron Wilson, but he could play much closer to home.
It was an ideal set-up for Suddons, and it lasted five years. Then, it was off to Edmonton for the 2009 season.
“There were changes made in Toronto, and an opportunity came up to play in Edmonton,” Suddons said. “I made the most of it. There was a young team out there. I tried to turn around the franchise in terms of culture. We wanted a winning culture there, and I had a great four years out there.”
Edmonton only had one winning season while Suddons was on the roster, but at least he finished well. The Rush had a surprising playoff run that placed them in the championship game last year; they lost to Rochester. Suddons became a free agent after that game.
“I probably would have welcomed the chance to go back to Edmonton, but things didn’t work out as far as that goes,” the 34-year-old said. “The opportunity to be closer to home was fantastic, much like playing for Toronto. Buffalo isn’t far in terms of practice, and being close to family is good as well.”
When Suddons arrived in Buffalo to prepare for the current season, two of his Edmonton teammates from last year – Shawn Williams and Wilson – were here as well. They were part of a restructuring of the roster that saw about half of the team change in a single offseason. Everyone had to adjust to a revised roster.
“I think we had a real good camp,” Suddons said. “We had 30, 40 bodies here, and we got an understanding of who would fit in what role. The coaches got a good look at who they wanted, and what they wanted them to do. Those practices gave an indication of where people fit in.”
Suddons apparently didn’t need much adjusting.
“Derek is the ultimate pro,” said Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour, who runs the defense. “He’s a stay-at-home lacrosse guy. He can run up the floor, but he is a big, strong guy who does what the coaches ask. ... He always has a comment in the defensive huddles. He’s a true veteran who helps everyone get better.”
The Bandits have finished a stretch of seven straight games against East Division opponents, and now have the chance to play someone different in Colorado. Suddons knows all about the offensive players of Philadelphia, Toronto and Rochester, but he says it’s not much of an adjustment to play some fresh faces.
“It goes back to coaching, the little tidbits and strategies,” he said. “You might be able to get away with something in one game, but not another. It comes down to who will work the hardest on a given night. Sometimes the game comes down to a loose ball. One possession, a late goal, or an untimely turnover can change the game. It’s a game of mistakes, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a heated rivalry or not.”
Colorado has lost five in a row to fall to 2-7, including a 14-10 loss in Toronto on Friday night. The Mammoth already has lost more games this year than they did in 2012, when they went 11-5. But they are dangerous, in part because they have John Grant Jr. heading the offense. Grant was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2012, and Suddons has been chasing him through his career.
“He is very talented out there,” Suddons said. “He’s gotten faster and quicker, and he’s been in great shape the last couple of years. He’s a leader of that Colorado team.”
Buffalo’s John Tavares is questionable for tonight’s game. He is still bothered by a calf injury.