The Buffalo Bandits return home to KeyBank Center on Friday as they play host to the Halifax Thunderbirds for a New Year’s Eve (Eve) celebration in Banditland.
The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive Bandits beads. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN+ and 1520 AM. Tickets are on sale now.
The Bandits (1-1) are currently in fourth place in the East following an 11-10 loss to Albany in the season opener and an 11-8 victory over the Toronto Rock on December 17.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds (2-0) enter the contest in second place in the division with a plus-19 goal differential after outscoring opponents 38-19 through their first two games of the season.
Rochester sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 3-0 overall record.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Bandits vs. Thunderbirds.
Last time out
The Bandits bounced back from their season opening loss, using a five-goal second quarter to power past the Rock and pick up their first win of the season at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Ontario.
Dhane Smith led the way with six points (1+5), dishing out five assists for the second straight game. Kyle Buchanan recorded five points (1+4) while Tehoka Nanticoke (3+1), Chris Cloutier (2+2) and Josh Byrne (2+2) all tallied four]-point nights.
Goaltender Matt Vinc made 52 saves in net.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 18, 2022
Coming off the bye week, Buffalo opened the contest on a 3-0 run with goals from Smith, Nanticoke and Byrne.
Despite a three-goal response from their division rival, the Bandits pulled away in the second quarter, outscoring the Rock 5-1 on tallies from Byrne, Dalton Sulver, Nanticoke (2) and Cloutier.
From there, Buffalo never relinquished its lead.
Brandon Robinson scored the only goal in the third quarter for his first as a member of the Bandits. Buchanan and Cloutier each potted goals in the fourth to secure the 11-8 win.
“We won the little battles,” Nanticoke said. “At the end of the day, there are lots of great teams in this league. Whoever wins the loose balls, blocked shots, and outworks the other teams will usually win, and I think we were able to do that.”
Sulver’s goal was the first of his NLL career. Two other Bandits also hit milestones as Buchanan reached 500 career points and Nick Weiss recorded his 100th career point with two assists in the victory.
Sharing the wealth
Through Week 3 of the 2022-23 campaign, eight different Bandits have found the back of the net, while 11 players have tallied at least a point.
Smith has paced the Bandits’ offense with 11 points and 10 assists. Nanticoke is the Bandits’ leading goal scorer with six, having scored a hat trick in each of Buffalo’s first two games.
“I’m a lacrosse player. I’m always learning, always trying to improve all of my game,” Nanticoke said. “Goals and points don’t matter to me at the end of the day. I just want to win and I know this team does too. We’ll do whatever is needed to help the team’s success.”
Nanticoke, Smith, Cloutier, Byrne, Buchanan, Weiss and Ian MacKay all have registered multi-point performances this season.
MacKay currently ranks first on the team with 18 loose balls in two games played.
The Bandits will be without Cloutier for the game against Halifax due to an upper-body injury. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Chris Cloutier has been placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury.
Thomas Vaesen has been placed on the active roster. pic.twitter.com/NHInH7HeYi
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 27, 2022
Buffalo and Halifax will meet for the 73rd time in franchise history on Friday and for the first of three meetings between the two teams this season.
Last season, the Bandits posted a 2-0 record against the Thunderbirds after winning both games of a back-to-back series on March 26 and 27 by a final score of 16-11.
Smith led the group with eight goals and eight assists in the pair of games while Byrne finished the season series with 12 points (5+7). Vinc played both games, stopping 114 of 136 shots faced.
Robinson will play his former team for the first time. The forward was a member of the Thunderbirds’ franchise for the past four seasons, including the team’s final year in Rochester.
Scouting the Thunderbirds
Halifax won its first two matchups in dominant fashion, recording an 18-8 victory over the Philadelphia Wings (1-1) on December 2 and a 20-11 win against the New York Riptide (0-2) on December 17.
Ryan Benesch leads the Thunderbirds in goals (8) and points (16). He is tied for third in the league in both categories.
Randy Staats and Cody Jamieson each have 10 assists in two games played.
“We don’t worry too much about the opposing team,” Nanticoke said. “Yes, they are great, but so are we. They have a very talented offense, but I believe in our defense and that they will step up and take it as a test.”
History in the making
Heading into the game against Halifax, several Bandits are set to make moves in the franchise record books.
Smith currently ranks third all-time in Bandits history in goals (311), assists (518) and points (829). The 6-foot-2 forward is now 17 assists away from tying Mark Steenhuis for second (535).
Byrne is four assists shy of tying Mike Accursi for sixth all-time in the category.
Following his 52-save performance against Toronto, Vinc became the third netminder in franchise history to record 2,000 or more saves. He is just two wins away from tying Anthony Cosmo (38) for the second-most wins in Bandits history.
With a victory over the Thunderbirds, head coach John Tavares can take over sole possession of third all-time in team history for wins. The former Bandits standout tied Les Bartley with 36 wins after the team defeated the Rock.