The Buffalo Bandits will host the Colorado Mammoth at KeyBank Center on Saturday for the first time since defeating the Mammoth in Game 3 of the 2023 NLL Finals to take home their fifth championship in team history.
The familiar foes enter the matchup in a similar position as each team has posted a 1-2 record through its first three games of the season.
“I don’t think it’s any shock it’s going to be a good game,” Bandits forward Brandon Robinson said. “Over the last two seasons the Bandits and the Mammoth have created a bit of a rivalry, especially now with the unified standings – there’s no East and West. So, I think it’s going to be that much more physical and that much more intense.”
Buffalo fell to Georgia 9-8 last Saturday in what was the lowest-scoring game of the season so far. Despite taking a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter, the Bandits couldn’t stop a four-goal run by the Swarm, who held a 4-3 advantage in tallies in the final frame to secure the victory.
Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc and Swarm goaltender Brett Dobson had a big impact on the score as they made a combined 79 saves. This week could see another strong goalie matchup when Dillon Ward and Tyler Carlson come to town.
“It could be a goaltender battle. It could be a battle of the offenses or the defenses,” Robinson said. “For us, we’ve got to game plan the same as every week. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re focused on us.”
Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on CW23 and ESPN+. Radio coverage can be found on 1520 WWKB.
Here’s everything you need to know before the game.
The Bandits will host Wing Night at KeyBank Center, presented by UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. The game will feature chicken wings served in the 100-level food court, a wing mascot race, and a halftime wing eating contest, presented by La Nova.
The Bandits are 2-0 on Wing Night after defeating the Philadelphia Wings 13-12 on the theme night last season and recording a 17-5 win over the Wings in 2022.
It's Wing Night in Banditland on Saturday and tickets are still available!
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) January 3, 2024
Bandits’ record following a loss
John Tavares is 50-18 since becoming coach of the Bandits in the 2018 offseason. Since then, the Bandits have never lost more than four regular-season games in one season and have posted an 11-2 record in the game following a regular-season loss.
Bandits forward Chris Cloutier emphasized how the coach, who is Buffalo’s all-time leading scorer, has earned the team’s respect.
“JT’s reputation is really tough to argue with and he’s a guy that we all really respect, and we clearly know that he’s been there and knows what it takes,” Cloutier said. “So, when he comes in and tells us, ‘Hey, we got to get in better shape’ or ‘We got to shoot better,’ everyone is just going to take that and run with it.”
Ward is a name some Bandits fans are likely familiar with. He led the Mammoth in their championship runs the last two seasons and was the NLL Goaltender of the Year in 2017.
Ahead of the matchup, Cloutier shared how Ward’s goaltending style of stepping up on shooters and creating tough angles near the top of the crease can impact the game.
“Wardo is one of those special cases where he’s got pretty much his own style from the rest of the league,” Cloutier said. “There are some guys on our team who’ve cracked that code and some guys that struggle with it.
“When you have a guy like Wardo in net, team offense becomes way more important. It’s not the straight-on shots that are going to fall on him. It’s when we can make one or two passes, get him moving as a team, and then hopefully find somewhat of an empty netter later in the shot clock.”
Ward allowed five goals in the first 10 minutes of Colorado’s game against the Vancouver Warriors last Saturday, making way for Carlson to come off the bench in relief. Carlson was named the NLL Player of the Week for Week 5 after he led the Mammoth to a 12-11 comeback-overtime victory over the Warriors, stopping 27 of 31 shots.
Ward is expected to get the start in net for Colorado.
Forwards Chase Fraser and Tehoka Nanticoke are both knocking on the door of milestones in their careers.
Fraser scored twice last week against Georgia and now needs two more goals to reach 100 career goals. Nanticoke scored with less than thirty seconds left against the Swarm for his 97th career point. If he can tally three points this week, he will reach 100 in his career.
Scouting the Mammoth
Colorado will be without forward Ryan Lee, who was instrumental in helping the Mammoth to the 2022 playoffs, setting a franchise record with 119 points in 2022, but a knee injury has prevented him from playing a full season since. He has been ruled out for the 2023-24 campaign after undergoing knee surgery over the summer.
Colorado returns five of their seven leading point scorers from last season. Connor Robinson and Eli McLaughlin lead the Mammoth with 12 points each this season while Tyson Gibson is close behind with 11.