April 18, 2013

Wagar has Built NLL Career by Biding Time

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Buffalo's Kurtis Wagar has been more minutes this season as a backup to Anthony Cosmo than he did in his first six years in the NLL with four other teams.
© Bill Wippert/Buffalo Bandits

Kurtis Wagar does not get to play much but he has an all-star attitude.

In his first six years in the National Lacrosse League with Edmonton, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia, he saw total floor time of 194 minutes as a backup goalie and was credited with one win. One win in six years, but still in the league because he's an all-in team guy who is universally appreciated.

''It's one of those leagues where everybody knows everybody,'' Wagar said of the NLL. ''It's important to me that everybody likes me. I think that's how you survive in this league.''

In this his seventh season, Wagar has been in on more of the action with the Buffalo Bandits — 273 minutes 51 seconds in support of No. 1 goalie Anthony Cosmo — than the first six years combined.

''I wasn't expecting too many minutes this season but we've been going through a slump so I've been getting more,'' said Wagar. ''It's been good to shake some rust off.''

Wagar got the chance to play his first complete game of the year last Saturday in Everett, Washington, because Cosmo banged his head in the previous game. Cosmo dressed but wasn't about to play because protocol calls for at least a seven-day rest. It was Wagar all the way and the Bandits, somewhat surprisingly to everybody who had written them off, put the brakes on a six-game losing streak by upsetting the Stealth 15-10. It was his second win of the season and the third of his career.

Buffalo would have been eliminated from playoff contention had it lost.

''It was crunch time,'' Wagar said during an interview. ''We left it kind of late to be playing well. We've been allowing a lot of shots — more than any goalie wants — but this time our D shut them down and that allowed me to see the ball. It all worked for us.''

It was a reversal of all the disappointing Bandits outings in recent weeks.

''It felt kind of like the start of a season,'' said Wagar, 28. ''It was nice to see smiles on everybody's face after the game and on the flight home.''

Now the Bandits can make the playoffs if they can beat Rochester at home on the schedule's last night Saturday. Maybe GM Steve Dietrich and head coach Darris Kilgour will decide that Wagar earned this start in Everett, or perhaps they'll go back to Cosmo. Regardless, Wagar won't change his approach: always be ready and always be supportive of the No. 1 guy.

''Whatever they say is the best scenario to win is the one I'll stand behind,'' Wagar said.

He's wearing 38 on his sweater for two reasons: that was his family's house number on Sunrise Drive in the town of Blackstock, Ontario, and he was a big fan while playing minor lacrosse in nearby Whitby of another goaltender, Gee Nash.

He's adapted along the way.

''I was in and out of lineups the first few years,'' he recalls. ''You've just always got to be ready. You practice a lot. It's a difficult position mentally but I've been doing it for a long time so it comes naturally.''

Eddie Comeau coached him in New York and Orlando.

''Kurtis was a good backup for us,'' said Comeau. ''He played behind one of the best goalies in the game and understood his role. He supported Matt Vinc and did a great job in the room and on the bench. He was well-liked by the guys as he usually got them laughing and relaxed before games.''

Paul Day was behind benches in Edmonton and in Orlando when Wagar played for those teams.

''Kurtis is one of those players who keeps everyone loose in the room,'' said Day. ''Behind the mask though, he is a fierce and fiery competitor — a great teammate.''

Wagar is delighted to be where he is today in the NLL.

''I found a home here in Buffalo as a free agent and I couldn't be happier,'' he said.

Wagar played junior lacrosse in Whitby and in St. Catharines, where he got to know and learn from former Bandits coach Bob McCready, who was so good in his day that he's in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

''I write his name on my stick every game I play,'' said Wagar. ''He was the most influential goaltender for me.''

Wagar was able to play for the Czech Republic during the 2011 world indoor tournament in Prague because his grandparents are Czech natives, and he had a ball.

''It was one of the best lacrosse experiences of my life,'' said Wagar.

He could do it again in 2015 when the tournament is in upstate New York with medal games in Buffalo.

He was on a construction site in Toronto when he spoke with us earlier this week. His weekday job involves overseeing underground construction projects. Much of his free time is devoted to the sport he loves. He's bounced around a bit, but that is part of being a backup goalie in the NLL.

''I've learned from a lot of really good goaltenders and coaches,'' he said. ''If I could go back in time I wouldn't change a thing.''

As for his desire to be liked by his NLL peers, Wagar has easily succeeded.

''He's a funny, charismatic guy, and he always places his teammates ahead of himself,'' said Wings captain Brodie Merrill. ''He is an easy guy to like.''

Come Saturday night, No. 38 will be in the crease or on the end of the Buffalo bench. In either case, he'll be doing all he can to help the Bandits win.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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