The Buffalo Bandits will take on the San Diego Seals in their home opener at KeyBank Center on Saturday. The Bandits will raise their fifth championship banner into the rafters ahead of faceoff, with a special banner-raising ceremony beginning at 7:15 p.m.
The Bandits enter Week 2 in a similar position to last season after falling to the Albany FireWolves in their season opener last Saturday. Josh Byrne had a team-best nine points with two goals and seven assists in the loss.
Buffalo dropped its season opener to Albany last December, then went on to finish with the top seed in the East Conference en route to a championship.
“Obviously we have a lot of the same pieces from last year but we’re also a different team in many ways,” Byrne said. “Every season is like climbing a mountain. Last year we were able to climb to the top and look down and see everything. But now we are looking at a brand-new mountain and we have to figure out ways to slowly take steps and figure it out.”
The focus now shifts to the memories of a championship run and the Seals. The last time the Bandits took the carpet at KeyBank Center, they were handed the NLL Cup. Saturday will be the final celebration of the 2023 championship as the team looks to make another playoff run this season.
“There’s been many times over the last couple years where I’ve looked at those rafters,” transition player Nick Weiss said. “There were games where I think we should’ve put a banner up there. I’ll be thinking of all the work and the different years it took to finally put it up there.”
Faceoff on Saturday is set for 7:30 p.m. on CW23 and ESPN+. Radio coverage can be found on 1520 WWKB.
Prior to the game, fans watching from home can enjoy a special Buffalo Bandits Banner Raising Night program, which will air on CW23, ESPN+, and TSN+ starting at 7 p.m. The program will feature an edited version of the Bandits’ championship documentary, “A Banner for Banditland,” as well as the full banner-raising ceremony.
Here’s everything else you need to know ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
A Banner in Banditland
The 2022-23 NLL champion Bandits will be honored with the banner-raising ceremony beginning at 7:15 p.m. All fans in attendance will receive a replica banner and are encouraged to be in their seats early for the ceremony.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. as the evening will kick off with a pregame “Toast to the Champs.”
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Matt Vinc will join a short list as he is expected to take the floor for his 271st NLL game on Saturday. The home opener would see Vinc overtake former Bandit Shawn Evans for fifth all-time in games played.
Vinc is only eight games away from third on the list, which could place him just behind Bandits coach John Tavares (306) before the end of the season.
The 41-year-old is officially the only active player in the top ten for games played after Brodie Merrill and Shawn Evans retired prior to this season.
Saturday will be the first and only regular-season matchup between the Bandits and Seals in 2023-24.
The Bandits enter the game 3-0 against the 2017 expansion franchise. They played twice in 2019, which saw Buffalo outscore San Diego 31-17.
The two teams faced off last March when the Bandits pulled out a 7-6 overtime win in San Diego. Dhane Smith and Byrne combined for nine points in the win while captain Steve Priolo tallied the game-winning goal.
The matchup with the Seals holds added weight given the NLL’s revamped playoff format for 2023-24. The league has gone away from conferences this season in favor of unified standings featuring all 15 NLL clubs.
With that change, all NLL teams will play each other at least once. The teams with the top eight records at the end of the season will make the playoffs.
Scouting the Seals
The Seals have made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and led the Western Conference with a 14-4 regular-season record in 2022-23. San Diego was the only team other than Buffalo to post just four losses in the campaign.
On the offensive end, San Diego returns their four leading scorers from last season in Austin Staats, Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie, and Wesley Berg. Each player tallied at least four points in their home opener against the Calgary Roughnecks last Saturday.
The Seals also acquired Trevor Baptiste, who holds the NLL record for face-off wins in a season, in an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Wings.
Weiss shared that the Bandits’ defense will need to play smart and focus on containing San Diego’s skilled forwards.
“First and foremost on my mind is their big lefties with Staats and Dobbie,” Weiss said. “For the defense, we need to be smart and play the right system and be able to contain those guys. If we can hold those guys to minimal offense, then I think we’ll have a really good shot.”