1, 2, 3… Let the games begin!
The Buffalo Bandits vs. The Colorado Mammoth in the 2022 Chase for the National Lacrosse League Championship!
Good god, the wait has been unbearable.
Baseball is swinging for the fences. Football is having their OTA’s on home fields. Hockey is priming the pump for two grand conference finals. Basketball is fun to watch as the Celtics advance. And now, ladies and gents, the most exciting game, a three-game series with two great teams, starts Saturday inside the KeyBank Center.
This is the first time since 2006 that these two teams had faced each other in the finals, with Colorado prevailing back when it was a one-and-done game.
Now, for the Bandits, this is déjà vu; they have been to the single brackets before; they’re third in six seasons.
One, two, three…
“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do, don’t you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel, I would probably know just how to deal with all of you. And I feel like I’ve been here before.”
Yes, we all have, and it’s been painful.
This time, however, feels different. As noted last week in Fast Break: They need this. They want this. We all want this. A 14-year wait is way too long. I’ve worn out my Bass Weejuns.
“We have a lot of great lacrosse players on this team; a lot of guys who really love this game. It’s a matter of just going out there, having fun, and playing for the guy next to you.” Said Bandits defenseman Frank Brown.
“Everyone of us, from top to bottom, playing Buffalo lacrosse; putting everything on the line, we leave nothing back. I believe in this team,” said rookie Tehoka Nanticoke.
They all believe in each other, and they are a tight-knit group. Other teams in the loop have chased the Bandits around this season, like trying to grab plastic bags in a bus shelter during a wind storm. It’s tough. Yet, as if charted as a classical music piece, this group has mastered the game.
“What sets this team apart from other seasons is that they are really close. People say this all the time, but these guys love to be around each other. Half the guys live together here in Buffalo, working out together every day. And they come to the rink, and they just want to be together,” said Bandits senior director of lacrosse operations, Scott Loffler.
“For these guys this season, it’s one or all, and that carries out onto the turf. Some of these guys who are offensive stars don’t care if they score and if their teammates score, they are just as happy. It’s a really close cohesive group, and I think that has taken us pretty far this season.”
Setting the Turf Straight
The Bandits record reads (and looks) mighty, with a 17-4 mark, including the three straight playoff wins. But come Saturday, June 4, the slate might be clean, but this team will be ready. Many have been around for the two previous championship stings, and they will be thinking about them.
“Two weeks ago was an incredible team win for us. We know what we need to do. If we play the way we need to play, we will definitely bring a cup back to Banditland,” said Nick Weiss, Bandits defenseman, who has been relentless in the playoffs.
And now it’s down to business. This group has been working hard the last couple of weeks, scheming for San Diego or Colorado. And now they know. First, the club wants to make up for the disastrous 2006 final against the Mammoth and the 15-14 loss in Denver on April 2.
Burnin’ Moon Colorado
But it ain’t gonna be like eating cotton candy on the midway. This is a very talented Colorado team, led by players who have stepped up to the plate when their leading scorer, Ryan Lee, went out with an injury.
Eli McLaughlin, for one. With his six-goal, six-assist performance last Saturday night in San Diego, the veteran lefty now leads the NLL’s scoring race with 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points. And right behind him is Connor Robinson (12+11=23), who scored four goals, including the game-winner in their regular-season victory over the Bandits.
Ty Gibson, son of former Bandit Darryl Gibson, has been a welcome addition to the roster. Joey Cupido leads the defense, transitioning the ball with speed and precision. Former Bandit and Canisius Golden Griffin, Tim Edwards, has a 62 percent playoff faceoff efficiency. Two-time team MVP, and three-time NLL All-pro, Dillon Ward made 42 stops last Saturday and enters the championship round with a 3-1 record and .762 save percentage.
“We’ll watch the game and then start preparing. It’s going to be fun. Colorado is the only team that has beat us without the Bandits beating them,” said GM and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich.
Three trips to get a “kick at the can.”
“I think they were two different ones. 2016 (Saskatchewan Rush), we were heavy underdogs. For the 2019 one (Calgary Roughnecks), we were the favorite. I hope we go into this one as even odds, and maybe that will give us a better chance,” Dietrich noted.
“Hopefully third time is a charm,” sincerely expressed Weiss.
1 2 3, Let’s go!
The NLL Championship best of three series will be carried on ESPN+ and TSN. Broadcast time will be 7:30 PM.
We are expanding our radio coverage on WGR Sports Radio 550 with Randy Mearns and Steve Bermel joining me in the Ted Darling Memorial press box. Dave Buchanan will be on wireless remote covering all areas of the turf with perspective and interviews.
Our pregame show will start at 7 PM, followed by the play-by-play, halftime, and postgame show.