The Albany FireWolves used a four-goal run in the second quarter to pull ahead and never looked back as the Buffalo Bandits fell 17-13 in a physical season opener at MVP Arena on Saturday.
Josh Byrne scored twice and had seven assists while Chris Cloutier tallied four goals. Goaltender Matt Vinc made 32 saves in between the pipes.
Alex Simmons led the FireWolves with five goals and three assists. Travis Longboat and Ethan Walker each added two goals and five assists of their own. Albany goaltender Doug Jamieson made 33 saves.
Albany and Buffalo each scored a pair of goals in an opening quarter which saw the two teams drop the gloves twice. The FireWolves got on the board first with a goal from Ethan Walker before Josh Byrne broke through a double team and held off a defender, scoring one handed to tie the game just 25 seconds later.
Brandon Robinson drove across the crease with 3:07 remaining in the quarter to give the Bandits their first and only lead of the game, but Marshall Powless tallied a power-play goal with one second left in the first to tie the score.
The two teams exchanged goals in the second before the FireWolves jumped ahead with their four-goal run, led by two goals and an assist by Simmons. Cloutier scored twice while Dhane Smith and Tehoka Nanticoke each added one as Albany took a 10-6 lead into the locker room at the half.
Cloutier completed his hat trick 47 seconds into the third to bring the Bandits within three. He passed to Byrne before rolling off his defender and streaking to the crease for an open pass and point-blank shot, but the FireWolves responded once again in the form of a goal by Tye Kurtz.
Ian MacKay found his way into a transition breakaway a few minutes later, finding the top right corner for his first of the season. Nanticoke scored his second of the night from Byrne and Kyle Buchanan to cut the deficit to 11-9. Byrne found the scoresheet with 28 seconds left in the third to send Buffalo to the final quarter down 12-10.
Buffalo cut the deficit to two goals twice more during the fourth quarter, but never got closer. Simmons padded the Albany lead with a pair of goals during the final 3:06.
Here are more takeaways from the opener.
Byrne’s seven assists were one shy of his career high, including a highlight-reel feed to Robinson that saw Byrne cut through multiple defenders to the crease.
The Bandits find themselves in a similar position to last year. They fell to the Firewolves 11-10 to start last season before going 14-4 and winning the NLL Cup.
The Bandits will have a chance for revenge as Albany is one of four teams they play twice in the regular season. They will host the Firewolves on Feb. 24.
Cloutier starts the goal scoring early
Cloutier finished sixth on the Bandits in goals and points despite only playing in nine games last season. He’s the team leader with four goals following one game this season, and the variety of shots were just as impressive as the goals themselves.
His first goal came right on the crease after getting a feed from Byrne. His second was a broken play in transition, which saw Cloutier hold the ball in the midrange and hesitate long enough to find an open corner.
The third goal was from a perfect two-man pick-and-roll between him and Byrne. Cloutier made the quick pass to Byrne as he came onto the floor and quickly set a pick. Byrne took a switch and saw Cloutier streaking towards the crease without a man on him. Byrne found the pass to the crease and Cloutier went far post to finish his hat trick.
The fourth goal may have been the least expected of the night from the forward. He caught a pass on the lefty side from Nanticoke as the shot clock was winding down. His defender drove him toward the restraining line, but the last second outside shot found side netting past Jamieson.
The Bandits will raise their 2023 championship banner prior to their home opener against San Diego Seals next Saturday. Tickets are available here.
Fans can watch the game on CW23 or ESPN+ and listen on 1520 WWKB. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.