As the final buzzer sounded at KeyBank Center exactly nine months ago, the Buffalo Bandits froze in place, heartbroken. They watched with dread as the Colorado Mammoth stormed the field and piled onto one another at their goalie’s net to celebrate their NLL championship victory.
The Finals between Buffalo and Colorado went all the way to a decisive Game 3, with the Bandits winning Game 1, but dropping the next two to lose the series.
Saturday night will mark the first time since then that the defending conference champions will meet, setting the stage for a meaningful battle in Banditland.
Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Fans can also watch the game on ESPN+ and can tune in at 1520 AM.
“It’s one of those things where we’re not looking at it as a revenge game or anything like that” Bandits forward Josh Byrne said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a ton of emotions naturally, just from seeing that jersey again, and playing against that team again.”
Coming into Saturday’s bout, the Bandits sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 10-2 record. Colorado, at 5-6, has not yet replicated their success from last year, finding themselves in fifth place in the West.
Some of Colorado’s top contributors returning from last year are goaltender Dillon Ward, who was named the MVP of the 2022 NLL Finals, Connor Robinson (20+19), Dylan Kinnear (6+13), Brett McIntyre (7+8), and Western New York native Zed Williams (20+16).
PICKING UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
After injuries forced both Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier to watch multiple games from afar, they finally made their triumphant returns to the field last week against Halifax, where the Bandits took the game 10-9 in overtime.
Byrne finished last week’s matchup with a hat trick and six assists, totaling nine points. Cloutier capped off his night with four goals and an assist, with his final tally being the game-winner.
“Anytime that you go down on the field and have to take time away from the boys, it’s definitely a hard thing mentally and emotionally,” Byrne said. “It just felt good to finally be back out there.”
Heading into Week 17 of the season, multiple Bandits can still be found among the league leaders in statistical dominance.
Reigning MVP Dhane Smith leads the league in assists with 67, and with 94 points, he trails only New York’s Jeff Teat, who has 96.
Bandits captain Steve Priolo ranks fifth in blocked shots with 14, while veteran goaltender Matt Vinc is tied for the league in wins (10) and is second in saves (511).
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
Speaking for himself and the team, Byrne recognizes that despite the mental and emotional challenge Buffalo faces, they cannot allow the defeat of last year to linger into the present day.
“At the end of the day, this is a brand new year,” Byrne said. “As a team, we’ve got big goals, and Colorado’s fighting to get a playoff spot. We’re really just trying to go 1-0, and as we head towards the playoffs here, that’s really just been our mentality.”