The Buffalo Bandits’ (14-4) chase for the team’s fifth NLL championship starts this Saturday in the opening round versus the Albany FireWolves (9-9).
Faceoff is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+ and 1520 AM. Tickets are on sale now.
“We’ve been building all season to get to this point, and we couldn’t be more fired up to play this weekend to start the playoffs in front of Banditland,” Josh Byrne said.
Bringing the heat Saturday. 🔥
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 5, 2022
Buffalo locked up the top overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Georgia Swarm on April 16. The only uncertainty heading into last week’s regular season finale against Toronto was which team would be traveling to Banditland in the first round.
Albany was a part of a three-team race for the final two playoff seeds along with Georgia and Philadelphia. The FireWolves defeated the New York Riptide 17-9 in a must-win scenario and clinched the East Division’s final seed with Philadelphia’s overtime win over Georgia.
The Bandits swept their two-game season series with the FireWolves, using eight fourth-quarter goals to secure a 13-8 win at home on Feb. 18 and then surviving 12-11 in overtime two weeks later in Albany.
The FireWolves, formerly the New England Black Wolves, relocated to Albany prior to this season. The Bandits played the Black Wolves during their most recent playoff run, a 13-6 first-round victory at KeyBank Center in 2019.
Saturday’s matchup between Buffalo and Albany is single-elimination, with the winner advancing to the best-of-three series against the No. 2 Toronto Rock or No. 3 Halifax Thunderbirds.
“Every team in this league is so good and especially in the playoffs,” Bandits forward Connor Fields said. “We know we have to be the hardest working and smartest team to keep our season going.”
— NLL (@NLL) May 1, 2022
Here is everything you need to know:
Season in Review
This season for Buffalo was one to remember as the team tied its highest win total in franchise history while putting the league on notice with its high-scoring offense, lockdown defense, and elite goaltending.
Dhane Smith had a career year, putting his name into MVP consideration, becoming the all-time single-season assist record holder with 94 and leading the league with 135 points.
Matt Vinc proved that he is still one of the top goaltenders in the league, becoming the first player in NLL history to surpass 9,000 career saves while stopping a career-high 747 shots.
Byrne finished with 99 points (37+62), tying him for sixth in the league with Vancouver’s Keegan Bal. Fields (32+35) and rookie Tehoka Nanticoke (32+19) both had impressive first years in Buffalo. Chase Fraser (32+24), Chris Cloutier (25+34), and Buchanan (19+38) all finished above the 50-point threshold.
All season long, players and coach John Tavares have emphasized the team’s talent and how the unit is collectively bought in for a title.
“I think this team is more mature than in years past,” Byrne said. “The majority of us were here with the 2019 [NLL Finals team] and learned tremendously on what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.”
“Heading into the playoffs, the team is feeling great,” Fraser said following Wednesday’s practice. “We got after it tonight, and now everyone is doing the right things to get ready to battle Saturday.”
Scouting the FireWolves
Albany won its final three games of the season and is riding lots of momentum heading into the postseason. The FireWolves have rattled off wins in four of six games since their last meeting with the Bandits.
They’re a very talented team that wants to push the ball and play at a fast pace,” captain Steve Priolo said. “Joey [Resetarits] is obviously their big gun, and there’s going to be a lot of film on him. He’s always a threat, and we always need to know where he is because he’s dangerous with time and space.”
Resetarits, a former Bandit and Hamburg native, is coming off the best season of his storied NLL career. He finished the year tied with Georgia’s Lyle Thompson and Toronto’s Tom Schreiber for the most goals in the league with 47.
He also had 111 points, placing him third in the NLL and beating his previous career-high in 2018 with 100. In two games against Buffalo this year, Resetarits leads the FireWolves with six goals and five assists.
Ryan Benesch chipped in with 29 goals and 52 assists this year. Doug Jamieson finished with a 9-8 record, 10.34 goals allowed average, and .787 save percentage.
Bandits learning from mistakes
Buffalo wasn’t satisfied in their 10-7 loss against the Toronto Rock to end the regular season, but they did view the game as a learning experience heading into the postseason.
Multiple players mentioned how last week was a tune-up for them to pinpoint specific aspects of their game that needed to be addressed this week during practice. They believe it will make them better in the long term.
“This week has been great,” Fields said. “There was a lot of energy and excitement at practice. I think the Toronto game just reiterated to us that you can’t win in this league unless you play a full game.”
The Bandits have a 7-2 record at home but have dropped their last two games heading into Saturday at KeyBank Center.
Priolo mentioned how their Achilles’ heel in their four losses was allowing the opposition to go on unanswered runs.
“I think the toughest opponent this year has been ourselves,” he said. “These streaks that we let teams go on, where we have breakdowns for five minutes and six minutes, have really hurt us. To be successful, we have to make sure that doesn’t happen in the playoffs.”