The Buffalo Bandits take to the road on Saturday, looking to extend their winning streak to three as they visit the Mile High City to face the Colorado Mammoth.
Buffalo is riding a two-game win streak into Denver as the Bandits dispatched of their cross-border rivals, the Toronto Rock, 10-8 last week at KeyBank Center.
The Bandits have put together back-to-back impressive performances after a humbling home loss to undefeated Halifax back on Dec. 28. Since surrendering 15 goals to the Thunderbirds in that game, the Bandits have clamped down defensively, giving up just 18 goals combined against Georgia and Toronto.
Matt Vinc earned the victory in net for Buffalo against Toronto by stopping 54 of the 62 shots he saw in the game.
Buffalo now sits at 3-1 and in second place in the North Division. Halifax remains in first with a 5-0 record.
The Bandits have been bolstered by some reinforcements to the lineup since the Halifax contest. They enjoyed the return of Chase Fraser and Steve Priolo to full health when they traveled to Georgia. Against Toronto, newly acquired Garrett Billings made his debut and contributed with an assist in 14:51 of action. Billings was signed to a one-year deal by Buffalo on Jan. 17.
Against Toronto, the Buffalo offense was led by Fraser, who notched a hat trick and an assist in his second game back since missing the first two contests of the season with an injury. Josh Byrne had a hat trick as well in the game for Buffalo. Both Fraser and Byrne also had hat tricks the week before against Georgia.
Meanwhile, Dhane Smith continues to lead the Buffalo offense with 20 points, including a team-high 14 assists. Three of his assists came on Saturday night against the Rock. Byrne is now Buffalo’s leading goal scorer on the season with 10, one ahead of Chris Cloutier and his nine goals.
Cloutier scored the go-ahead goal for the Bandits with 5:29 left to play in the fourth quarter on Saturday, breaking an 8-8 tie. Matt Gilray finished the scoring by adding an empty-net goal with 44 seconds left.
Gilray has been one of the leaders for Buffalo on defense. He is tied with Mitch de Snoo for the team lead in loose balls (26). Meanwhile, de Snoo leads the team in caused turnovers with eight. In goal, Vinc’s save percentage is up to .808 and his goals-against average sits at 11.36.
Buffalo’s defense will have its hands full on Saturday night against one of the best playmakers in the NLL. Colorado’s Ryan Lee is second in the league in points with 31. The 25-year-old Sharon, ON native tops the Mammoth in assists with 21, good for third most in the league. He has also added 10 goals.
Leading the Mammoth in goals are Chris Wardle and Jacob Ruest, with 12 each. The Bandits will also have to keep an eye on Eli McLaughlin, who is second on the Mammoth with 23 points, including 17 assists.
The Mammoth (4-3) return home to Pepsi Center after a 12-6 win at Saskatchewan on Saturday night. The victory against the Rush completed a three-game road trip for Colorado. The first two games of the road trip were defeats at Halifax and Vancouver.
Against Saskatchewan, Wardle was the star for Colorado with a five-goal night. Lee (1+6) and McLaughlin (3+4) each had seven-point nights to lead the Mammoth.
The Bandits will be facing one of the best netminders in the league on Saturday night in Colorado goaltender Dillon Ward.
In playing all seven games for the Mammoth this season, Ward has stopped 308 shots and posted a goals-against average of 8.50, as well as a save percentage of .837. Only Halifax’s Warren Hill has a better save percentage and goals-against average among full-time starting netminders in the NLL. On Saturday against the Rush, Ward stopped 53 of 59 Saskatchewan shots.
Colorado also has one of the best defenders in the entire league in Robert Hope. The 28-year-old from Peterborough, ON is third overall in the league with 58 loose balls. He has also caused seven turnovers.
The Mammoth have played the most games of any team in the league so far this season with seven matches already in the books. Saturday’s game will be their fifth in the month of January.
The Bandits, meanwhile, will only be playing in their fifth game of the season on Saturday night. After the trip to Colorado, they have one more game in January, a home contest next Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the Rochester Knighthawks.
Saturday’s game in Denver will faceoff at 9:30 p.m. at the Pepsi Center. Fans can stream the game live on B/R Live or tune into the radio broadcast on ESPN 1520.