The Buffalo Bandits took a chance signing Max Adler, a guy who had never played a box lacrosse game in his life. The decision almost won them last year’s NLL Cup.
Coming into last season, the Bandits were the odds-on favorites to win it all. Their roster was stacked with the league’s most accomplished goaltender in its history, and a mix of savvy, elite veterans and maturing all-stars on both sides of the ball. It seemed like there was little that could get in their way. To be honest, very little did.
If you were to name one weakness of the 2021-22 Bandits, it would’ve been their effectiveness at the face-off dot. In their first seven games of the season, the Bandits didn’t out-duel one team at the X, and sometimes the matchup wasn’t even close. On February 12th, things got so bad that the Toronto Rock’s TD Ierlan won 25-26 face-offs against a combined effort of 4 different Bandits.
Within 24 hours of the team’s defeat at the dot (and on the scoresheet), Bandits’ GM Steve Deitrich gave a call to a player they had kept in their back pocket in case of these exact circumstances. Deitrich had spoken with Adler on a few occasions before mid-February, but there was far from a concrete plan to bring Adler on at any point last season.
“We had some talks, and we left it at, ‘We’ll see what happens,’” Adler said. “My plan was not to play this year, but the next year really try and make a run during training camp, live in market, and then earn a spot on the roster. I’m not naive; I know that guys are coming up from a whole minor system, and I had never played box before. I thought there was no way I would make the roster without putting in more work and going through a training camp.”
Adler had grown up in Florida and often had a bat or a glove in his hands, not a lacrosse stick. He didn’t learn his way around the game until high school, where he played at the varsity level for a year. In college, Adler continued to play lacrosse but earned a spot as a walk-in, not as a five-star recruit.
After completing his college career at D-II Bentley College, Adler began his professional career with the Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws in 2017. During his time in the MLL, he played alongside NLL players such as Zach Currier, Kyle Killen, Ryan Lee, and Wes Berg, among others, including NLL legend John Grant Jr..
A few years after hearing all about box game from his field teammates, Adler, who had moved up the Eastern coast to Connecticut by this time, finally went to watch his first NLL game at Mohegan Sun Arena to watch his Outlaw teammate Matt Gilray play the New England Black Wolves as a member of the Buffalo Bandits in January of 2019.
Once he got that call after the Rock game, Adler was ready to suit up for the Bandits, and he was going to prove that his unconventional path to the league wasn’t going to stop him from being successful.
“I wasn’t going to not succeed because of a lack of effort,” Adler said. “I was hoping that I would make up for my lack of box skills and lack of experience with my effort. So, my main focus was on doing whatever to help my team win.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing for Adler during his first handful of games – the opposition was getting the better of him most of the time – but the team was winning. The Bandits had won their first seven-game with Adler in the lineup. By April, he had found his groove. In the first match that month vs. the Colorado Mammoth, Adler won 21-34 face-offs (61.8%). Unfortunately, for him, during practices in the run-up to their very next game, Adler partially tore his tricep, sidelining him until the end of the month.
“The injury really impacted how I faced off a lot,” Adler said. “I couldn’t use motorcycle grip anymore, and I had to switch to neutral grip, which is something I had never done before.”
At the end of the regular season, Adler was again trying to find his way as he was still recovering from injury. Fortunately for him, the Bandits kept winning, so Adler had more and more chances to prove his value and earn his teammates’ respect.
In the first two games of the NLL Finals, Adler won a remarkable 67.9% of his face-offs, but in the most consequential lacrosse game of his career, Adler was once again bit by the injury bug, this time partially tearing his hamstring mid-game.
Of course, the Bandits season didn’t end the way they hoped it would, and for Adler, it capped off an eventful year filled with literal bumps and bruises. Nevertheless, the future looks bright for the face-off specialist.
With a newly signed one-year contract showing him that the Bandits organization has confidence in what he can bring to the table, Adler is ready to improve on his first season and become an even more valuable teammate on the Bandits’ next championship run.
“This season, I want to go into training camp and work on my defense,” Adler said. “I know I’m not going to be the best D-guy ever, but I want to at least improve on those skills and learn the system better, so I could take some shifts to take some pressure off our guys.”
By Adam Levi