Bandits Capture Fifth NLL Title
BUFFALO — Since 2008, the Buffalo Bandits have experienced the pains of just missing out on winning the National Lacrosse League championship. In fact, the Bandits had lost in the finals in back-to-back seasons, and after a 16-10 loss on Memorial Day in Game 2 against the Colorado Mammoth, it looked like Buffalo might lose three finals in a row.
That’s how it looked when the frustrations brewed at the end of Game 2, but that’s not the mindset Buffalo came back home with for the decisive Game 3 of the series at KeyBank Center on Saturday.
The Bandits completely flipped the script, reversing the lopsided loss in Game 2, into a dominant 13-4 victory to secure the team’s fifth championship and first since 2008.
“I’m super proud of our group. It’s been a long time coming,” Buffalo’s Josh Byrne said postgame. “The last two years, we lose two championships, one to Calgary, one to this same team, and for this series to go the same way it went last year up until Game 3, there was a lot of doubt. A lot of doubt was placed on this group and I couldn’t be more proud of how we battled and sent the message.”
In an all-around impressive game, what stood out above all was Buffalo’s impenetrable defense that was backstopped by veteran goalie Matt Vinc. The team helped Vinc record a whopping 46 saves and allow a NLL Finals record low number of goals against, with just four getting through.
The impressive team defense ended up being the story of the game, but what stole the day’s attention prior to the opening faceoff was the activation of Byrne. After missing the first two games with an upper-body injury, it was questionable how much he would be able to help the team.
“It was incredibly tough, emotional couple of games for me personally,” Byrne said about missing the first two games of the finals. “Not being able to battle with my boys, it was heartbreaking for me. As soon as we lost Game 2, I knew I had to get ready for Game 3 and try to give this team a little bit of a spark.”
Those doubts, if any, were quickly answered when Byrne fired home his first goal of the game right at the buzzer in the first quarter to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. Byrne went on to finish with four goals and three assists for seven points in his only game of the finals.
While Byrne’s goals sent Banditland into a frenzy, Dhane Smith quietly had a night to remember as he once again was the game’s leading scorer on the way to a Finals MVP performance. The Great Dhane scored two goals and picked up seven assists for nine points, which pushed his playoff total to 49 points in six games.
Byrne and Smith led the way offensively for Buffalo, but it was childhood fan Tehoka Nanticoke that got Banditland rocking from the start. Nanticoke opened the scoring for the team he grew up dreaming of playing for when he burst down the slot and finished off a nice pass from Byrne.
It was the storybook ending for Nanticoke, but that meant Silver Creek High School alumnus Zed Williams had to feel the worst feeling in sports. A year after capturing the NLL championship in Buffalo, Williams and the Mammoth had the opportunity to complete the repeat.
Unfortunately for Williams, the Bandits just happened to be the better team Saturday night. Buffalo played a flawless game in which it held all of the Mammoth stars below their point averages, including keeping Williams to just one point, an assist on an Eli McLaughlin power-play goal.