Sometimes Dhane Smith plays with the defensive squad of the Buffalo Bandits, bringing his athletic ability to that unit.
Sometimes the second-year pro finds himself up front with the offensive players, particularly when it’s time for a power play.
In fact, Smith is liable to play just about anywhere except goal during the course of a game. The only given for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Swarm (8 p.m., universalsports.com, Radio 1520 AM) is that Smith will log plenty of minutes.
“It feels like minor lacrosse, when you didn’t have a choice of playing offense or defense. You’re playing everything,” Smith said. “I’m thankful that the coaches have given me lots of floor time. ... It’s hard to do, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
It’s relatively rare for someone to play both ways in an era when lacrosse teams generally split their squads into offensive and defensive groups. Smith has been the exception, because he’ll help either way.
“It’s a great aspect to have,” he said. “Not many guys can play both ways, so it’s nice to get into that. Being able to go up or go back if I have to, it’s good.”
Assistant coach Rich Kilgour said: “He’s a young kid, in great shape, and we like to be able to use him on the transition. We get more athletic on the back end. When we think about Dhane Smith on the floor, the defense has to take a step back. ... He’s a great player, he’s young, and we try to get as many miles out of him as we can.”
While it often takes players a season or two to get used to playing in the top level of indoor lacrosse, Smith needed virtually no adjustment – or so it seemed. He stepped into the lineup in 2013 and led the Bandits in goals with 24.
It’s helped Smith that he knew a couple of the Buffalo players quite well even before he arrived at the first day of training camp. Veteran Billy Dee Smith is his cousin.
“I grew up watching the Buffalo Bandits, and him. Billy has been teaching me ways to play,” Dhane Smith said. “I looked up to him. I’d see Mark Steenhuis a lot, too, because he’s married to my cousin. He’d be at the family reunions as well. I’d be like, ‘I want to be like those two.’ It’s awesome getting to play with them.”
Smith also could look around and see that he was on the same team as all-time greats like John Tavares and Shawn Williams.
“Not too many guys come in and play with the greatest players to ever play the game,” Smith said. “Last year, it was hard to not ask them for an autograph. ... So it’s nice. I feel like one of the guys now. Last year they made me feel welcome, but it’s a little bit better now because I’m older.”
With Steenhuis moving to the offensive unit from a transition role and Ryan Benesch joining the team, it made sense to move Smith back with the defenders more often. With the 21-year-old playing more defense this season, you’d think his offensive numbers might go down. In fact, they’ve gone up. Smith already has 51 points this season, ahead of last season’s total and second on the team.
Other players have noticed how new coach Troy Cordingley has given the transition players a standing order to attack whenever possible. Smith didn’t argue when it came.
“He’s stressed it a lot this year,” he said. “Last year we didn’t have much in transition. He says, if it’s not there, we pull it back and go off the field. But at the time, if we have a good chance, we should go. Andrew Watt was a huge pickup for us. He likes to run the floor. Steve Priolo has stepped up so much this year, running the floor with me. It’s nice to have more than one guy running up the floor.”
Smith and the rest of the Bandits accomplished one of their goals last week when they clinched a playoff berth. But the team is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and that has to change if the team hopes to make any noise in the postseason.
Then there’s still the matter of wrapping up a second-place finish in the National Lacrosse League East in order to guarantee a home playoff game. That would come if the Bandits beat Minnesota tonight, or if Toronto loses to Philadelphia. If Buffalo loses tonight while Rochester wins, the Knighthawks would clinch first place in the East – and the accompanying first-round bye.
“We have some unfinished business this year,” Smith said about the stretch drive.