When Kevin Brownell wants to share some memories about what his college days were like, he doesn’t have to look very far for someone who knows what he’s talking about.
The second-year transition player, who is scheduled to be in the lineup tonight when his Buffalo Bandits host Colorado at First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM), has some company as former members of the Robert Morris Colonials include two Buffalo transition players.
“I didn’t play with Andrew Watt, but I played with Mitch Wilde,” Brownell said.
Brownell was a third-round draft choice of the Bandits in 2012. He had two teammates, Kyle Buchanan (drafted by Washington) and Kiel Matisz (Minnesota), go in the NLL that year as well. Four more, including Wilde, were taken last year.
“It’s not one of the biggest Division I schools in America, so it’s tough for them to get the best American players,” Brownell said about Robert Morris. “They come to Canada and find the guys from there.”
The 25-year-old grew up in Burlington, Ont. His father played lacrosse, and Kevin had a lacrosse stick in his hands at the age of 3.
“I played Junior A in Burlington, and I went to Robert Morris and played field lacrosse there,” Brownell said. “Then I made the transition here.”
While he had never played the transition position before coming to Buffalo, he certainly showed signs in college that he’d be good in the role. Brownell had career bests in ground balls and caused turnovers in his senior year, skills that went with offensive talents that put him in Robert Morris’ all-time top 10 in scoring at the time of his graduation.
Last season, Brownell was on the practice squad for the first half of the year – watching, learning and waiting for his turn. After all, he had never played with the defense before arriving here.
“It was good,” he said about his time on the practice squad. “Darris Kilgour was a very good coach; he taught me a lot. There are a lot of older guys to learn from here. Being on the practice squad gave me time to adjust. I also played senior lacrosse in the summer, and that helped me in the transition to the NLL too.”
The second-year pro says moving offensively minded players back with the defense has had the effect of opening up the sport.
“It’s just the way the game is going,” Brownell said. “Everyone has to play a bit of both. There are a lot of talented guys in Junior A that end up playing that transition role. It’s making the game a lot faster. It makes for an interesting, high-scoring game.”
Even though he’s not playing with the scorers on a regular basis now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to take off down the field when he gets the opportunity. What’s more, the Bandits’ coaches encourage that sort of behavior.
“Oh yeah – you see a loose ball, you have the green light to take off,” he said. “We have a lot of fast guys on our right side. It’s been working well for us.”
Brownell, who missed a couple of games with an injury this season, has six points in seven games.
“He fits in well,” said Jay Thorimbert, another member of the defensive unit. “He’s an athletic kid who is always improving. His skill set is always evolving. He’s another guy we can plug in. When Billy Dee Smith couldn’t play last week, he stepped up and filled the role pretty well.”
Brownell sometimes has been singled out for praise by the coaching staff as the Bandits have finished a successful first half of the season at 7-2. He thinks the team learned a lesson from its second-half collapse in 2013 that led to missing the playoffs.
“Last year was a reality check,” Brownell said. “We all expected to do well last year, and I think we saw how every team in the league is so competitive that if you let it slip, it can get out of control really fast. This year, we’re taking every game seriously. We’re working hard all the time. The attitude in the room is really high. It’s just kind of carrying over, week in and week out.”
Tonight’s game against Colorado (5-7) starts a stretch of four out of five games against teams from the West. Bandit defenders don’t see the Western players very often, which means some extra homework is needed.
“We do film,” Brownell said. “They have clips sent out throughout the week, and we watch before games. We did it last year, but I think this year we’ve done a lot more of it. It helps you prepare. You get to know the guys’ tendencies and learn what they like to do. We’re a lot more prepared for games.”