The Buffalo Bandits’ chase for a fifth championship continues Saturday with Game 1 of the NLL Finals against the Colorado Mammoth at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo comes in as East Conference champions after completing a two-game sweep of the Toronto Rock. The Bandits survived Game 2 in Hamilton, 10-9, after a battle-tested 18-17 home victory to open the series.
The Bandits had an extra week to prepare for the finals as Colorado concluded its series win over San Diego last Saturday.
“Most of the time, I want to get right to it and start playing,” Dhane Smith said. “But one week of rest after a physical series versus Toronto was good for us. I think we are just excited to get going again.”
🚨PARTY IN THE PLAZA THIS SATURDAY🚨
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) June 2, 2022
Colorado finished the regular season with a 10-8 record, placing it as the No. 3 seed in the West Conference. After a 16-12 win against Calgary on the road in the first round, the Mammoth defeated San Diego 15-13 in a back-and-forth Game 3 to advance to their fourth finals appearance dating back to their days as the Baltimore Thunder.
Buffalo and Colorado met once during the regular season on April 3, as Buffalo dropped the final game of a three-game road trip, 15-14. The two teams combined for 12 ties and 12 lead changes at Ball Arena before Connor Robinson’s game-winner with one minute remaining in regulation.
The Bandits will look to get revenge in their second finals appearance against the Mammoth. Former Bandit and current head coach John Tavares recalls taking Colorado “very lightly” in the 2006 NLL Finals, resulting in a 16-9 stunning loss that gave the Mammoth their lone title in franchise history.
“The fellas are ready and can’t wait to fire in front of Banditland,” Josh Byrne said.
Here is what you need to know:
Something to Prove
This year’s Bandits squad has had one goal in mind: to win a championship.
The vast majority of the team suited up for the 2019 NLL Finals against the Calgary Roughnecks, where Buffalo was swept 10-7 and 14-13. After two years in which playoffs were erased by the COVID-19 pandemic, their wait for a chance at redemption is over.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from our 2019 championship run,” Smith said. “We thought we had the finals once beating Toronto. I think what we can take from it is every team is great in this league, and nothing will ever be given to us.”
Smith was also a member of the 2016 team that lost to the Saskatchewan Rush in the NLL Finals, creating even a greater desire to win his first NLL championship and help the Bandits win their first since 2008.
The hunger to rebound after the 2019 loss wasn’t just instilled in Smith. It spread throughout the entire roster, including new additions like Connor Fields, Kyle Buchanan, and rookie Tehoka Nanticoke.
“Going into this year, we tried to get an early start,” Tavares said. “The guys were training well before training camp started. They put in a lot of sweat, blood, and not many tears and a lot of effort well before the regular season even began.”
Tavares and Byrne also mentioned similar parallels between the 2006 and 2019 Bandit teams. Both squads felt the need to prove something and used their defeats as motivation throughout the entire season after not taking their finals opponent as seriously as they should have.
In 2008, Buffalo responded with a 14-13 win over the Portland LumberJax for their fourth championship. The current Bandits squad looks to keep that trend going this time around,
“We are looking forward to the challenge ahead, and no better place to start than Banditland this Saturday.”
Help us help our East Side community.
The first 1,000 donors will receive a special poster.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) June 2, 2022
Following their gritty series against the Rock, the Bandits still have their work cut out for them in the finals. Just like Buffalo, the Mammoth cemented themselves as one of the most complete teams in the NLL.
Offensively, Colorado’s top threat is Ryan Lee, who had 119 points (34+85) in the regular season, placing him second in the league to Smith in points and assists. Lee scored 10 points (2+8) against Calgary before missing the last three games versus San Diego with a lower-body injury.
Multiple players have stepped up in Lee’s absence including Eli McLaughlin, Zed Williams, Tyson Gibson, and Robinson. McLaughlin has been red hot during the postseason; in just four games, he leads the league with 17 goals and 33 points.
Robinson is second with 23 points (12+11), Williams is tenth with 16 (8+8), and Gibson is 12th with four goals and nine assists. Faceoff man Tim Edwards has converted 62 percent of his draws during the playoffs, and Joey Cupido is leading a dominant transition/defensive core.
No player is more important for Colorado than goaltender Dillon Ward, as the two-time MVP has a 3-1 record, 11.88 goals 0gainst average, and a .762 save percentage in the playoffs following his 42-save performance last Saturday.
More insight on the previous matchup
Buffalo’s loss to Colorado earlier in the year snapped its seven-game win streak and ultimately changed the course of the Mammoth’s season in the process.
Prior to the 15-14 win, Colorado’s offense was struggling to find the back of the net, especially against playoff-caliber teams. Colorado rattled off consecutive victories against the New York Riptide and San Diego Seals after beating Buffalo.
Five different players scored hat tricks in the scoring onslaught, including Smith (3+9), Byrne (3+5), and Chase Fraser (4+1). For Colorado, Robinson had four goals, and Lee finished with eight points (1+7). Ward did his job with 46 saves, including timely stops to halt any chance of a Bandit comeback down the stretch.
“They are a great team on all sides of the ball,” Smith said. “We always seem to be hungrier when teams beat us, so we should be able to use that to our advantage this time around.”
Buffalo trails the all-time series against Colorado, 6-9.