One to get ready, five to go
The Buffalo Bandits’ playoff mantra, “Drive for Five,” is now underway. And fittingly, it would take five playoff victories to take home the 2023 NLL Championship.
The single elimination first round will take place Saturday, May 6, 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center.
After the handful of come-from-behind and one-goal victories for the Bandits, Saturday’s 11-10 win over Toronto showed this team is dynamic with a special set of skills.
They are comfortable with taking risks and don’t need an intervention when the balls won’t drop. Nine second-half goals last Saturday night proved that.
We must have one more look at Chase Fraser’s goal between the legs on a Cloutier rebound.
Adding to the freestyle shots, watch this year’s team-voted Unsung Hero award winner Kyle Buchanan break free from the middle and go over the shoulder.
Six Degrees of Separation
“It’s all about staying in the win column, but you don’t want to rely on close games. We want to separate ourselves as we move forward,” said Bandits forward Chris Cloutier.
“We must have the short memory mentality. We have to think about the game at hand. A team willing to work harder and put more on the line will come out with the win.”
Who’s next in line?
And that’s precisely what the Bandits need to do with their last game of the regular season against the Firewolves in Albany. Matching last season’s 14-4 record is a good start, and gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is another.
And for the team’s Offensive Player of the Year, Dhane Smith, to win the NLL scoring title and add to his 126 points. Just needs 12 Saturday night to set a new NLL record.
“There’s never a game that doesn’t mean anything; even if it doesn’t affect the standings, it’s still an opportunity to get better and fine-tune ourselves before we head into the playoffs. We have to take advantage of every second we have.”
Ever since the start of the Bandits training camp six months ago, you never knew what kind of roster would be assembled because of injuries. But now, there’s a fever. And it’s a good one.
“It’s been a weird kind of year with Chase missing most of it, Chris out for a span, then Josh and Tehoka going down; we’ve never had a full contingent of offense until last Saturday night,” said Steve Dietrich, Bandits GM, and defensive coordinator.
“It’s finally nice to see the group we envisioned, minus Brandon Robinson, playing together.
“This is an important week to let the guys jell more before the playoffs start.”
First half – Second half
You must hand it to the Bandits in what was a tight defensive game in the first half. Steve Priolo led the back-door players who consistently poked, swatted, checked, and transitioned the ball up the floor.
Priolo is now one career point away from 200, one career game for 200, and one loose ball from tying his season career best of 138. All with the Bandits over 13 seasons.
And how about the return of Justin Robinson in his second game played. Two direct shots on goal.
Forechecking paid dividends by the Bandits forwards, too.
Watch Kyle Buchanan slap the ball away from Adam Jay, causing an over-and-back charge when all is said and done, creating another surge for Buffalo back in the Toronto zone.
More precise passing with scoring opportunities, but the ball is intercepted by Latrell Harris. On his way, watch Smith with one of his two caused turnovers in the game, which affords Buffalo another opportunity as time ticks down on the power play.
And then into the second half, on the power play with good passing and opportunities, more forechecking gets the ball back. This time Bryne hits paydirt.
It was great having Tehoka Nanticoke back in action after missing five games with an injury.
Here is number 1 scoring a beauty, pushing the Bandits ahead for good Saturday night against the Rock. And a great pick by Brad McCulley.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” said Cloutier. I’ve never seen someone use his body as he does.
“He makes such a difference when he is physically on the floor for us for the points he gets and mentality. You got him on the right side, willing to put his body on the line and score big ones when we need him.”
And the havoc he creates bashing towards the net, sacrificing his body – and no call.
The rest of the Bandits offense was clicking after coming back from a 5-2 deficit in the third quarter. The four-goal run in a matter of three minutes was most impressive. Something must have happened in the Bandits dressing room at the half.
“You start with a game plan, and you make adjustments. I use the TV timeouts, so you want to win each segment,” noted Dietrich.
“Eric Vinc is always good on the bench watching, giving JT and myself some ideas on what he is thinking. Matt is always good coming to the bench, letting us know what he sees, and the D guys are always really good.”
The little things add up in a game like last Saturday. Max Adler, who won 10 draws, wins the faceoff after Toronto comes within one with a sweeping move of the ball to Nick Weiss.
Watch this year’s team Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Weiss with an incredible deke, felling two Toronto players in his wake, setting up a great scoring chance with Byrne and Nanticoke at the doorstep with some nifty moves.
And the game-winner by Josh Byrne, but more importantly, every player on the floor did their job on this one.
You want me on that Wall
Team MVP Matt Vinc throws his weight around during his 12-save fourth quarter and comes up huge with two big saves in the closing seconds.
One to get ready. Five to go
Congratulations to this year’s Fan of the Year, Jeremy Huck. Never a problem finding him with his goal light hat.
And fittingly, on Fan Appreciation Night, the Bandits saluted PA announcer Chris Swenson with a beautiful video tribute for his 30-years of keeping Banditland stoked all game long with his famous lines.
The Bandits vs. Firewolves game will be carried by ESPN+ and TSN+. The broadcast time is 7 p.m.
Radio coverage will be on WGR Sports Radio 550 and audacy.com. The pregame show will start at 6:30 pm. Coach Tavares will provide an update on the team, and Matt Vinc will share his view from the net.