Connor Fields was 6 when he bought began. His brother his, Peter, who was 9 on the time, was enjoying field lacrosse in a league in Fort Erie. Their dad, Peter, drove over the border two or thrice every week, and little Connor would tag alongside.
The president of the league informed Connor’s mother and father that since he was coming to all of the video games, he would possibly as effectively play, too. That is all the child wanted to listen to.
“He was three years older, so I regarded as much as him so much,” Fields mentioned. “I used to be like ‘If he is enjoying, that is what I wish to do’. That is how I bought into it.”
He was hooked, a part of a technology of Western New York children who grew up idolizing the Bandits and their celebrity, John Tavares. Connor was a pure. He spent hours enjoying out within the household’s yard in East Amherst, imagining a time when he would possibly get to play earlier than a full home within the Area.
“That was my dream,” Fields mentioned I wished to do every part I may to make that occur. The most effective I may do on the time was faux to be a Bandit within the yard, pretending to be John Tavares and doing a number of the stuff you’d do within the sport.”
Fields grew as much as be among the best lacrosse gamers ever to come back out of Western New York. He was the realm’s greatest highschool participant at Bishop Timon-St. Jude and an all-American on the College of Albany who left faculty because the second-leading scorer in Division I historical past and went on to a profession within the professionals.
Twenty years later, Fields lastly realized that little boy’s dream. Final August, the Bandits acquired him from San Diego in a draft-day commerce. At 26, he is having the most effective 12 months of his Nationwide Lacrosse League profession for his hometown crew — oh, and together with his boyhood hero, Taveras, because the crew’s head coach.
Heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at KeyBank Middle, Fields is third on the crew in scoring with 32 targets and 67 factors. He is had a breakthrough season for a Bandits crew that leads the NLL with a 14-3 file and can take pleasure in home-field benefit by way of the playoffs, which start subsequent week.
Fields, who was a 12-year-old cheering from the stands when the Bandits received their final NLL championship on the Area in 2008, has an opportunity to be a part of a long-awaited fifth league title. It is an thrilling time in Banditland.
“I believe we’re all actually excited,” Fields mentioned Thursday within the Bandits dressing room within the Area. “Being from Buffalo, I grew up going to all these video games and the playoff video games. So I do know the Banditland ambiance rather well.
“The followers are nice within the common season, too,” he mentioned. “However come playoffs, they will be an enormous increase for us and hopefully give us the additional edge we must be profitable within the playoffs.”
Profitable an NLL title could be a storybook ending to Fields’ season. It has been an extended and at instances painful experience, one which noticed him lose most of his rookie NLL season after knee surgical procedure and miss an indoor season when the NLL canceled the 2021 marketing campaign as a result of pandemic.
Fields performed his freshman 12 months at Williamsville North, enjoying one 12 months alongside his brother. However he transferred to Timon halfway by way of his sophomore season.
“It was robust,” he recalled. “Clearly, rising up you’ve gotten your mates. I did not know anybody at Timon. However on the time, it was the best choice for me, and I do not remorse it in any respect. I like Timon.”
As a senior, Fields was the highest participant within the Buffalo space and rated because the Fifteenth-best prospect in the complete nation. He additionally performed field lacrosse in Canada throughout the winter months, staying true to his indoor roots.
At Albany, he was a four-time all-American, ending with 199 targets and 364 factors in his profession. In 2017, he had 117 factors, the fifth-most in a season in NCAA historical past. However as a senior, he performed on a knee that he’d first injured as a junior. By the second half of the 2018 season, he was enjoying with a torn ACL, a sprained MCL and an injured meniscus.
It was round that point that he started relationship Lara Podvin, who performed for the Albany girls’s lacrosse crew. The connection clicked and so they’re engaged to be married subsequent New 12 months’s Eve on the Sterling on the grounds of the Arrowhead Golf Membership in Clarence.
“The boys and the ladies’ crew at all times frolicked,” she mentioned, “so we had been like somewhat lacrosse household. It was simple to cross paths as soon as I bought there.”
Podvin knew her boyfriend was enjoying damage. However she knew higher than to counsel that he possibly take a while off from lacrosse.
“Telling Connor to not play lacrosse is, like, unattainable,” Podvin mentioned with amusing. “That by no means crossed our minds. I used to be new to him and the connection, however I additionally knew that lacrosse was his life. So, I let his household have the intense conversations with him. I used to be there for help.
“It was in all probability one of many hardest issues he ever needed to undergo,” she mentioned. “However when he was enjoying, he was truthfully glad. He was capable of play by way of it. When it will give out, that is when it will hit him arduous. I name him a robotic. I might say, ‘You are a robotic for with the ability to do this’.”
Regardless of the broken knee, the Robotic led Albany to its greatest season ever, reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA championships. Fields was sixth within the nation in factors that season.
However he paid for it later. After faculty, Fields was drafted third total by Charlotte within the Main Lacrosse League draft. He performed a few video games within the out of doors season however needed to shut it down due to the knee. On Aug. 1, 2018, he had knee surgical procedure with Leslie Bisson, the Amherst orthopedic sports activities specialist.
That September, Fields was taken tenth total within the NLL draft by the San Diego Seals. The Bandits had the third and fourth total picks and took Matt Gilray and Ian MacKay. If he had n’t damage his knee his, who is aware of, possibly he goes to Buffalo then.
“They bought two nice picks on the time,” he mentioned. “I do not understand how it will have been performed out. Come draft day, you are excited to go wherever you are drafted to play, however inside I used to be actually hoping for Buffalo. Nevertheless it ended up understanding.”
Fields had taken a cortisone shot earlier than the NCAA match. He discovered later that he wanted to attend three months for surgical procedure, which took him into August. The restoration time prevented him from being prepared for the NLL season in 2019. He performed solely three video games for San Diego, one within the playoffs.
In 2020, Fields performed 12 video games for San Diego, ending with 18 targets and 44 factors. Then the 2021 NLL season was worn out as a result of pandemic. Fields performed out of doors final summer time for the Archers of the Premier League. Then got here the commerce to his hometown Bandits in August.
Tavares could not recall what the Bandits traded for Fields. They acquired him from San Diego for the thirteenth total decide and a second-round alternative within the 2022 NLL Entry Draft.
“I had nothing to do with the commerce,” Tavares mentioned from Ontario, the place he nonetheless works as a math trainer. “I simply mentioned, ‘OK, do it.’ Steve Dietrich (the Bandits’ normal supervisor) was liable for that commerce, and it turned out to be a really, excellent commerce for our facet. Connor wished to come back again at play at residence.”
“So, we took an opportunity on him,” Tavares mentioned, “and man, he is actually produced for us! I might say he is undoubtedly gone past expectation, what he is provided to our crew offensively. I might have been pleased with 15 targets.”
Fields scored 4 targets in every of his first two video games for Buffalo. He has been remarkably constant, scoring not less than one aim in 11 straight video games heading into Saturday evening. He had assists in eight of his final 9 video games.
“I believe I am nonetheless rising as a participant,” mentioned Fields. “With every sport, I am getting higher, getting extra comfy on the market, simply getting used to the pace of play and being in numerous conditions.
“I am enjoying with new guys, constructing chemistry,” he mentioned. “You at all times play with nice gamers, however the guys on this locker room are unbelievable gamers. You may not be open, however they nonetheless discover a approach to get you the ball. It is a very unselfish crew, a really proficient crew, too. You play higher if you’re having enjoyable. I have not had this a lot enjoyable enjoying lacrosse for the reason that faculty days.”
Tavares mentioned Fields is getting smarter as a participant. He mentioned the identical issues about Dhane Smith, the NLL’s prime scorer. “There’s not a whole lot of set performs for him, however he finds a approach to produce,” Tavares mentioned.
Fields is 5-11, 160 kilos, although the web site lists him as larger. His slight construct was probably one of many causes he did n’t go increased within the draft. However he says being small will be a bonus, permitting you to insinuate your self into higher scoring probabilities and utilizing defenders’ measurement in opposition to them.
“The sport slows down so much as you get used to the tempo,” Fields mentioned (Smith mentioned the identical factor). You are seeing issues so much slower and with the ability to see the larger image, the complete discipline. I believe it separates the nice from the good gamers. It is one thing I am persevering with to work on.”
At 26, with the accidents and the pandemic behind him, Fields is in his absolute prime as a lacrosse participant. He is wholesome, glad and productive. He and Lara, who each work in pharmaceutical gross sales, will probably be married at the beginning of the New 12 months.
This 12 months could not get a lot better for Fields. Except, in fact, the Bandits win that elusive NLL title in his first 12 months as a professional in Buffalo.
“Yeah, it will be a dream come true,” he mentioned. “I used to be there for the final time they received it. I grew up in my yard, pretending I used to be a Bandit. Now I play for them. If we win the championship, I do not assume I will have phrases to explain it.”
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the Minus Better crew in 2020 after three many years as a sports activities columnist at The Buffalo Information. See extra of his work right here.