The Buffalo Bandits will have a familiar face at forward tonight when they open the 2013-14 season at First Niagara Center: Mark Steenhuis.
The name is the same as the veteran who was on the roster last year, but the position is different.
After a three-year stint where he mostly was a transition player, Steenhuis has returned to his former role in which he was one of the most dominating scorers in the league.
“It feels good to get back on that side of things. I’m excited to be there again,” Steenhuis said.
The 33-year-old will start his 11th season with the Bandits when they host the Philadelphia Wings (7:30 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).
Fans remember the Steenhuis who had 51 goals in 2009, and 36 in 2010. Those numbers ranked with the league’s best. Yet he was moved to a transition role for much of the past three seasons, often playing with defenders.
The move left many confused, including Steenhuis. With the departure of coach Darris Kilgour, Steenhuis now can talk about that situation with more candor.
“Yes, I was absolutely confused,” he said about the position switch. “It’s been a super-weird three years for me.
“You try to be as professional as you can about it. You change things up, and I worked my hardest and tried to do the best that I could in that spot. It was an unfortunate situation. I couldn’t tell you why it happened. It was like a bomb blew up.”
Steenhuis’ numbers dropped off because of the switch. He only had 39 points last season, his lowest season total in 10 years.
New Bandits coach Troy Cordingley saw a lot of Steenhuis when he was coaching in Toronto, and wasted no time turning Steenhuis back into a forward.
“As soon as I was named coach, that was probably one of my first phone calls – to tell him to start thinking about playing just offense,” Cordingley said. “He has so much to offer. His skills are incredible. Not that he’s a waste on defense, but this makes room for other players to make the team on defense.
“Also, we have in our back pocket that if we are low on numbers on defense, he can play that defensive role in transition. But we want him to focus on offense. We want him to get his numbers back.”
Steenhuis responded enthusiastically to that phone call, and couldn’t wait to get to training camp earlier this month to show he could still score.
“I think I carried a bit of a chip on my shoulder, wanting that chance to show that,” he said. “After you’ve had success and it’s taken away, it’s a little bit of a stab. I’m excited. I just want to get out there and run our system.”
About the only problem Steenhuis had in camp was that he had to take things a little slowly. He was coming off minor surgery.
“I’ve had nagging groin problems for a couple of years,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve gotten that fixed and gotten it out of the way.”
If you guessed that the veteran has been more or less counting the days until the arrival of tonight’s game, you’d probably be right.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s obviously something I’ve wanted for the past couple of years,” Steenhuis said. “So it’s nice to be back.”