The Buffalo Bandits will be busy this weekend with back-to-back road games in the Great White North.
The Bandits will travel out west to take on the Vancouver Warriors on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. at Rogers Arena. It will be the first of two games in Canada this weekend as the Bandits will then fly back east to face the Toronto Rock on Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena.
This is the first two-game weekend for the Bandits this season. Buffalo enters this packed weekend on a bit of a roll. The Bandits have won four-straight games, including the last two in overtime, to improve their record to 5-1. Corey Small has been the hero for Buffalo in each of the last two games with overtime winners against both Colorado and Rochester.
Last Friday’s win against the Knighthawks saw some late-game heroics from the Bandits as they rallied from two goals down three times in the fourth quarter. Trailing 15-14 in the dying seconds, Chris Cloutier found the back of the net to force overtime with 7.1 seconds to go, setting the stage for Small’s winner.
The Bandits are hoping to come away victorious in British Columbia without the need for a pulse-pounding finish. To do so, they’ll have to contain old friend Mitch Jones. The former Bandit, who was traded to Vancouver in the deal that brought Small to Buffalo in November of 2018, had 83 points for the Warriors a season ago and is currently third in the entire National Lacrosse League with 41 points.
Only Georgia’s Shayne Jackson and Philadelphia’s Kevin Crowley have more points on the season.
Jones has been a deadly sharpshooter for the Warriors. His 17 goals are tied for third most in the league.
Buffalo’s Josh Byrne is second in the league with 19 goals. Jones’ 126 shots on goal are the most of any player in the league so far this season. He struck for a hat trick in Vancouver’s 10-6 victory over New England last Saturday in Connecticut.
Jones’ partner in crime on the offensive end for Vancouver has been Keegan Bal. Against New England, Bal also posted a hat trick as both he and Jones had three-goal, two-assist nights. Bal is second on the Warriors with 23 assists and 33 points. The other player to watch on the offensive end is Jordan McBride, who is second on the team with 14 goals.
While the Warriors have some dangerous players on offense, it’s their defense and goaltending that have carried them in their last two contests.
The Warriors have held each of their last two opponents to single-digit goals in beating Colorado 7-5 on Jan. 17 and New England 10-6 on Saturday. The Warriors held the Black Wolves to just two goals through the first three quarters before New England tallied four times in the fourth. Vancouver netminder Eric Penney was the first star in Saturday’s win as he stopped 55 of 61 shots against.
Penney is on a hot streak as of late between the pipes for Vancouver, stopping 92 of 103 shots in the last two contests and earning first star honors in both games. Penney sports a .986 goals-against average and .818 save percentage, which is fifth best in the league.
Defensively, the Warriors are led by Owen Barker, who caused five turnovers against the Black Wolves on Saturday and earned third-star honors. Another standout on the Vancouver defense is Matt Beers, who missed the New England game with a lower-body injury.
The back-to-back victories have improved Vancouver to 3-4 overall on the season, placing them a game back of 3-2 Saskatchewan for first place in the West Division. Meanwhile, the Bandits are also within striking distance of first place in the North Division, currently sitting just a half game back of 6-1 Halifax.
The Thunderbirds suffered their first defeat of the season on Friday night in Toronto. With the Bandits’ on a four-game winning streak, things have tightened at the top of the North Division standings.
The Bandits will look to stay unbeaten on the road this season during their weekend excursion to Canada. Buffalo is 2-0 on the road with wins at Georgia and Colorado.
Dhane Smith continues to lead the Bandit offense in points with 37. His 27 assists are tied for second most in the league. Josh Byrne has moved into second in the league’s goal-scoring race as his 19 goals trail only the 21 from Georgia’s Jackson.
The Bandits’ current four-game winning streak is now the longest winning streak in the league thanks to Halifax’s loss last Friday. The Bandits are also now the league leader in goals per game, averaging 13 goals per game (78 goals in six games).
Buffalo does have some work to do on the defensive end as they are giving up 57.7 shots against per game, which is tied with Calgary for most in the league. The Bandits will look to Mitch de Snoo to lead the way on defense against Vancouver. His 13 caused turnovers are now tied for second most in the NLL.
In goal, Matt Vinc has stopped 259 shots for a .794 save percentage and 11.97 goals against average.
This will be the lone meeting between Buffalo and Vancouver during the 2019-20 regular season. These two teams last meet on Dec. 28, 2018, where Buffalo came away with a 16-10 win at KeyBank Center.
Friday night’s game can be streamed on B/R Live and the radio broadcast can be heard on WGR 550 (following Sabres postgame) and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.