Any similarity between the Baltimore Bandits and a well-oiled machine figures to be strictly coincidental this evening when the new American Hockey League entry engages the Hershey Bears at Hersheypark Arena.
It will be the first of a meaty two-game exhibition season -- Hershey comes down for a game at the Baltimore Arena on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) -- and Bandits coach Walt Kyle can't wait to start putting his ability to evaluate personnel to work.
Kyle said: "Besides being for conditioning, the two games will give us a chance to see how we handle the other guys one-on-one, see who can make plays and who has the work habits we're looking for."
Initially, though, it's an opportunity to check out and make a quick decision on five free agents who have been invited in on a trial basis. "There's a ton of guys looking around for jobs right now and, if they don't get signed here, there's always a chance with Raleigh [of the East Coast Hockey League]," Kyle said.
Here's the way it works: Anaheim, the parent NHL club, assigns players from its training camp, which has been in operation for a few weeks, to its top farm team, Baltimore. The Bandits sort through the talent, hold onto what they want, then point the others to North Carolina.
All of it is done in little more than a week as leagues have this long-standing habit of starting their regular seasons seemingly within hours of each other. "For the players, it's a situation they're familiar with, and they know what it takes to impress," Kyle said.
That's why the coach wouldn't be surprised if tonight's exercise turns into a free-wheeling affair after the customary feeling-out process: "After the guys take a couple of checks and give a couple, they'll be ready to show what they can do. All we've had a chance to do so far is work on our defensive-zone coverage. That gives you a chance for a preliminary team evaluation."
The Bandits were assigned seven more players by the Mighty Ducks yesterday, bringing their roster to 24. Through the two exhibitions and two practices, players will continue to come and go.
Kyle is familiar with some of the players because he coached them last year and checked them out earlier this month at Anaheim's training camp, so he's not starting from square one. Make it square one and a half.