The Bandits have made it to the 2023 National Lacrosse League Finals for the third time in a row and the fourth time in the last six seasons.
Stay close to our social platforms regarding game dates, starting in Buffalo. The Bandits’ opponent will be the winner of the Colorado vs. Calgary series, which goes to game three Saturday night.
Master in the making
A few years ago, the New York Times reported on a new online digital series titled “MasterClass.”
These beautifully produced multiple-video vignettes featured tutorials from the greatest and most famous writers, actors, artists, gardening experts, architects, and just about any vocation you can think about.
Even a “MasterClass” from the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.
Each subject covered is presented with a glamorous video trailer featuring the mentor in comfortable surroundings speaking in a calm yet confident voice, enticing you to come along and learn what it takes.
Imagine, if you will, Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc sitting in a wing-tipped chair with a reading table lamp with a traditional shade at his side and a burning fireplace behind him.
Legs crossed, arms resting on the chair arms, dressed in slacks and buttoned sweater, speaking to the camera.
“Hello, my name is Matt Vinc, eight-time National Lacrosse League goaltender of the year and the all-time leader in games played, wins, and save percentage.
Several championship rings enhance my handshake to endorse what it takes to be great.
I know many of you are good goaltenders but are not sure how to reach that next level of being great.
Welcome to my MasterClass.
When you subscribe to my MasterClass, I will take you through a seven-day-a-week physical workout schedule of running, sit-ups, crunches, leg lunges, squats, and lateral lunges.
In addition, I’ll teach you the proper amount of weight training to gain total body strength. I will also teach you how to juggle.
Included in my MasterClass episodes, I will show you what it takes to endure a full game of sweat-saturated padding of 25 pounds, stopping a ball at 110 miles per hour, and butterflying side to side.
While stopping 50-plus shots a game, many seconds apart, I’ll teach you how to yell commands to your defenseman and cuss out the opponent and officials with proper etiquette.
Join me, won’t you, in learning what it takes to be great. If you’ve watched and listened this far, you’ve made the first step to greatness.”
Gosh, if you need any endorsement of the above, the Bandits’ two-game sweep of the Toronto Rock this past weekend, Matt Vinc’s numbers are mind-boggling.
In 116 minutes played, Vinc made 85 saves on 98 Rock shots, many of which were in the teens for a handful of quarters.
Vinc enters the finals with a .870 save percentage and goals against an average of 7.07!
“Our defense is playing super, super physical and just gave Vno the shots he wanted to see, but that being said, he still made some just ridiculous saves like he always does,” said Max Adler, who won 13 solid draws last Saturday night and recorded the 100th faceoff decision of his career.
Here is just a dab of Vinc along with the combination of Ethan O’Connor and Bryce Sweeting holding a Rock power play at bay. Again, Vinc and teamwork.
It’s a matter of the Bandits defense and Vinc playing really well that gives the entire team confidence.
The defense as a unit stood tall at the restraining line, selecting position on a Rock attack. All communicating their position. Watch Justin Martin behind the net covering, forcing fast pass, which is busted up and the loose ball by Matt Spanger scats to Justin Robinson. Robinson with hedge-fake, opening up a lane and the rest is in the net. Robinson’s first of two playoff goals of his career.
“Matt is Matt, right? He’s the best to ever put the pads on,” said Steve Dietrich, bandits GM, and defensive coordinator.
“Since he’s been here, we try and dictate the shots he wants. You’ve seen the shots in the three playoff games up and down the lanes. He’s done a good job, always bailing us out.”
Combined with the end of the regular season, the Bandits enter the NLL Finals on a six-game winning streak. They are back up to averaging almost 15 goals per game.
If I can retake Adler’s word, the offense has been ridiculous. Shooting 24 percent from the floor each game last weekend, the Bandits scored 31 goals.
Josh Byrne takes flight on one of his seven goals over the weekend.
Two-goal runs each night included Friday night’s five-goal run in three minutes and 29 seconds and Saturday night’s seven-goal spree in seven three minutes and 49 seconds.
Just pure Eloquence.
“Last year, we had a different road from where we are today. From the injury side this past season, we’ve only had four games now with our full group,” said Kyle Buchanan, who had one goal and six assists in the two-game series against Toronto.
“We are excited to start hitting our stride, and definitely a different mentality with a chip on our shoulder. We know we are a top team, and we still feel that way, and that’s really all that matters.”
The combo of Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne has been superior. The two complement each other so well, and their numbers show it. Both are tied in points leading the NLL playoff scoring with 26 points, Smith has six goals and 20 assists, and Byrne has 11 goals and 15 assists.
And they play defense at times, too.
“And that’s what doesn’t appear on the stat sheet.”
“Dhane and Josh have the goals, assists, points, and MVPs. But what you don’t see is the leadership like that with them spreading back and limiting any transition opportunities,” said Adler.
Smith blocked a shot, scooped six loosies, and caused turnover. Byrne, too, scooped three and swatted one away from a Toronto player.
And what about Chris Cloutier? 11 goals and seven assists, including six goals last Saturday night. Tehoka Nanticoke had five goals and two assists as well.
“Let the ball do the work,” said Cloutier to TSN’s Ashley Docking.
Again, teamwork on defense with the Rock on a power play, Ethan O’Connor soaks one of three on the night, grabs the loosie and storms out three aside. Priolo with feed to Cloutier who swings a shorty passed Rose.
“Having pretty much the core of the group in the lineup is good. This has given them time to jell and work together,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares.
“They already know each other, and all are great players. They understand their roles, and you can see the production increasing.”
The Bandits transition team was excellent over the weekend, accumulating 14-plus points, which included two goals by Justin Robinson and one by Steve Priolo. Vinc had two assists as well.
“That’s fine with us. We have a lot of confidence in the guys running the ball up the floor.
“I thought we did a great job on loose balls. Max battled hard on the faceoff dot. If he wasn’t winning them himself, we were battling hard for loose balls. We want to limit the opponent with one-shot possessions, which is key to stopping them, and it also lets us get our transition going,” Dietrich said.
Now a week of healing the bruises, keeping the muscles in shape and practicing in preparation for the 2023 NLL Finals.
“The guys understand the impact of the Finals and what it means to the city of Buffalo,” said Tavares
The other game
Game three of the West Conference Final Saturday night will be on TSN, TSN+, and ESPN+. Faceoff time is 9:30pm.
Have a great week.