For the fourth straight year, Tracey Kelusky took part in the Buffalo Bandits’ home opener.
The catch this time is that this time he was a member of the visiting team.
Kelusky’s contract expired with the Bandits at the end of last season, and he signed with the Philadelphia Wings – Buffalo’s opponent on Saturday – as a free agent.
“For me, talking with management, returning was something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I don’t think they were really comfortable with it either,” Kelusky said. “I’m fortunate that Philly gave me the opportunity to go down there.”
The Bandits had high hopes for Kelusky when they sent a first round draft choice to Calgary before the 2011 season for him. He had scored at least 60 points in seven of eight years, with injuries costing him a chance at eight in a row. Kelusky only had 54 points in 2011, followed by 28 points in 2012. Last season the forward finished with 10 points in only seven games.
“It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy at times,” Kelusky said about his days as a Bandit. “I don’t know if I put too much pressure on myself. I think I was given opportunities by the coaching staff. I just look back at my time with the Bandits as something that just didn’t work out. You look around the league and see different guys at different places, and they didn’t have the success they wanted.”
Kelusky gave some thought to retiring, but then reached an agreement with Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t a matter of whether I could still play. It’s a matter of whether I wanted to still play,” he said. “When I got out there, the spark was kind of re-lit.”
The veteran recaptured some of his past glories in Saturday’s game, scoring six points in helping Philadelphia defeat Buffalo.
“The boys were happy he could come back here and get a win. Good for him,” Wings coach Blane Harrison said.
The Wings’ rebuilding program took something of a detour in the offseason. Philadelphia had been loading up with talented American players, and appeared to be headed in the right direction in the standings.
However, some members of the United States national field lacrosse team opted to take the indoor season off in order to prepare for the 2014 championships. That hit the Wings hard, especially when mixed with some other personnel changes.
“It’s one of those things that took on a life of its own,” Harrison said. “It wasn’t one unit that came to us. They’ve got personal issues, business, surgery – it’s a little bit more than off-field commitments. It kind of happened all at once.”
Among those missing from the lineup are Paul Rabil and Steve Holmes. In addition, goalie Brandon Miller hasn’t come to terms on a contract yet.
The Wings have been busy filling those holes as best they can.
“If there are silver linings, we’ve been able – with the support of ownership – look at the model differently,” Harrison said. “We’ve tried to get some guys who are a little bit more ‘lacrosse IQ-type’ players. … That opportunity wouldn’t have been afforded to us if some guys came back.
“We have to learn how to win. We’re hoping that guys like that will help the decisions made by the other guys.”
The rules for games this season have been only slightly tweaked entering the season. A team on the power play during a major penalty to the opponent now can score only two goals before the penalized player comes out of the box.
“We thought that three goals, given the speed of the game, was too much. The feeling was to cut it to two goals,” NLL Commissioner George Daniel said.
In addition, goalies who pick up major penalties or misconducts no longer will have to serve the time themselves.
“We’ve had that rule for a number of years,” said Brian Lemon, vice president of lacrosse operations. “Based on how we’ve changed the rules, we said, let’s make it consistent with the other changes we’ve made.”
Aaron Wilson and Chad Culp were scratched for Buffalo. Bandits’ coach Troy Cordingley said his roster is completely healthy. ... Philadelphia had a 68-52 edge in shots on goal.