The Buffalo Bandits return from the bye week to host the Georgia Swarm at KeyBank Center on Friday.
The Bandits opened the season with a 17-13 loss in Albany but rebounded with a 12-9 victory over San Diego at home after watching their 2023 NLL Cup banner raised to the rafters.
Being 1-1 after Christmas wasn’t the plan for the Bandits, but the quality of play against the Seals was a turning point in the mind of goalie Matt Vinc.
“The slow start has kind of been the way I’ve started a lot of the years personally,” Vinc said. “We’re trying to fine tune some things especially with training camp going how it went, we had a lot of the guys in and out of the line-up.
“I feel like we were a couple weeks behind, but it really shows you what kind of group we have. We lose a bad game to a young, energetic Albany team … now we’re playing a team that’s stacked top to bottom in San Diego and we come out with arguably one of our better games that we’ve had in a long time.”
The Bandits turned things around against the Seals after going into the locker room down by one at halftime. San Diego opened the third-quarter scoring before Buffalo scored five consecutive goals to lead to the win. Josh Byrne scored two of the goals while Dhane Smith assisted two.
The Bandits had the bye for the holidays but now have to swing back into motion quickly with their first Friday game of the year.
“We had a great practice last week as a group, it was a nice reset to be around friends and family,” Smith said. “I’m sure we’ll be fine. It might take us a little to get our feet wet a little but every team goes through it, so we can’t use that as an excuse, we just gotta make sure we’re ready.”
Faceoff on Friday is set for 7:30 p.m. on CW23 and ESPN+. Radio coverage can be found on WGR 550.
Here’s everything else you need to know ahead of Friday’s matchup.
It will be “Winter Wonderland in Banditland,” including a food drive in partnership with FeedMore WNY.
Fans can drop off donations to Alumni Plaza from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The first 500 donations will receive a special ticket offer redeemable for two tickets to a 2024 home game.
We are teaming up with @feedmorewny this Friday at Winter Wonderland in Banditland!
Bring in your food donation to receive a special ticket offer! pic.twitter.com/QU3n7Qsu7v
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 27, 2023
The night will also include an outdoor market in Alumni Plaza, a magnet schedule giveaway for the first 8,000 fans, and more.
Smith has led the NLL in assists three of the last four seasons. In 2022, he set the record with 94 assists in a single season. The next year he broke that record with 96. So far in two games this season he has already tallied 12, which puts him on pace for 108 regular season assists.
Last time out against San Diego, five of Smith’s assists came on the power play. He’s the first this season to tally that many on the extra man in one game.
Smith needs six assists to pass Gavin Prout for 10th place on the NLL’s all-time list, with 622.
“At the end of the day I’m not trying to make myself better, I’m trying to make my teammates better,” Smith said. “I like to set up players more than I like to score goals. Sometimes, obviously I need to put the ball in the back of the net but if I can help my teammates out to the best of their ability and put them in the best situation to be successful then that’s what I want to do.”
On the edge of milestones
Tehoka Nanticoke has notched six points so far this season and is four shy of reaching 100 for his career. Nanticoke was drafted by Buffalo third-overall in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft. Since then, he has played in 33 games in the regular season and is averaging 2.9 points per game.
Byrne is climbing the ladder of Buffalo goal and point scorers. Against San Diego, he passed Ryan Benesch for the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 154. Against Georgia, he has the chance to pass Mike Accursi for fourth in all-time points for Buffalo.
Accursi played 108 games for the Bandits. Byrne will be playing his 74th.
“He’s an unbelievable player, he’s a top-five player in my mind in this league,” Smith said. “He’s one of the best at – put the ball in the back of the net – and you’re starting to see that. From day one I always saw it, so it’s pretty cool to see him develop.”
Scouting the Swarm
The Georgia Swarm come to KeyBank Center with a 2-1 record. Both of their wins came against the Colorado Mammoth, by a combined score of 31-18. Their only loss on the season came to the Vancouver Warriors, on the road 15-7.
The Swarm are led offensively by two former MVPs in Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson. Thompson leads Georgia with 18 points through three games, which ties him for fourth-best in the league. Jackson and Andrew Kew both have 14 points.
On the back end, the Swarm return second-year goalie Brett Dobson. Last season the St. Bonaventure alumnus was key to the team’s six-game win streak to give them a chance at the playoffs. He tallied at least 35 saves in all of those games and had four 40-plus save games. This season he has averaged 37 saves per game.
“Their defense is very hard to scout because I feel like they play different defense against different teams,” Smith said. “They’re a very athletic defense. … Their goalie Dobson’s been playing unbelievable as well. At this point of the year, no games are easy and everybody is trying to gun for us as well so it’s not any easier.”