With just 66 miles separating their respective cities, the Buffalo Bandits and Toronto Rock have developed into bitter rivals.
Saturday will mark the 63rd meeting all-time between the two teams, with Toronto having a slight lead in the all-time season series, 34-28. The organizations have combined for 10 championships and 20 division titles over the past 30 years.
In the last decade, both organizations have 16 wins in head-to-head matchups. However, Buffalo slightly edges out Toronto in the number of playoff victories, 2-1.
Following last Saturday’s 11-8 win over the Rochester Knighthawks, Bandits forward Dhane Smith immediately turned his attention to their next opponent.
“We don’t like them, and they don’t like us,” Smith said, smiling.
Smith has faced Toronto 28 times in his career and has made special mention of the rivalry to first-year players in the organization like Connor Fields, Tehoka Nanticoke, and Kyle Buchanan.
In their first head-to-head matchup of the season on January 8 at KeyBank Center, the Bandits won 12-6 in commanding fashion 12-6. Josh Byrne (4+4) posted eight points (4+4).
In that game, the bad blood between the two teams was on full display. Multiple brawls broke out, firing up Banditland. The officials called 78 total penalty minutes.
During his postgame press conference that night, Byrne when asked about a 5-on-5 line brawl.
“At the end of the day, as long as we beat them. It always feels good to beat Toronto,” he said.
The Rock have picked up back-to-back wins over Rochester and Philadelphia to improve their record to 4-3. Toronto is currently in third place in the East Division.
The Bandits, meanwhile, are 6-0 for the first time since 1996.
Faceoff is set for 5 p.m. on ESPN+ and WGR 550.
Here is what you need to know:
1. No fans at FirstOntario Centre
The Bandits are playing their first game this season outside of New York State, and also their first game without fans in the stands.
Due to COVID regulations in Ontario, no fans will be in attendance for Saturday’s game at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. Earlier in the season, Buffalo’s game in Nova Scotia against Halifax was postponed due to provincial guidelines.
Bandits coach John Tavares joked about how a silent arena would’ve impacted him during his playing days, but that it doesn’t affect his job now that he’s on the bench.
“When I was a player, I loved having the fans because I played for them,” he said. “Whether it was to have the home fans cheer us on and when we went on the road, I wanted to do anything to get under their skin.”
Smith added how the change in the environment creates an even playing field.
“This game will be a challenge for us and arguably our biggest test of the season,” he said. “We have to remind ourselves that Toronto doesn’t necessarily have a home-turf advantage with their fans not being able to get them hyped up in the arena.”
2. Someone’s Gotta Lose
A win streak will be snapped on Saturday, and both teams have enough motivation to make that happen. Buffalo has mentioned multiple times this season how they recognize that their target on their back gets bigger with every win. They are currently the lone undefeated team left in the NLL.
Toronto has as much momentum as anyone else in the NLL. Following the loss to Buffalo, the Rock lost a heartbreaker in overtime to then-undefeated Halifax 14-13.
Sitting at 2-3, Toronto won against the Knighthawks and Wings by a combined 11 goals coming into this week.
Buffalo hasn’t had a blowout victory since the game against Toronto, but they have proven what it takes it be a championship-caliber team. They’ve come from behind to win and have also held off late rallies from desperate opponents.
All time, the Bandits are 11-7 on the road against Toronto.
3. Get Your Popcorn Ready
Tensions will be high, and Toronto is looking for revenge. In their first meeting, Buffalo outplayed Toronto in every facet of the game, and it was apparent in the lopsided box score at the end of regulation.
Frustration set in late in the fourth quarter, which resulted in three separate fights to break out in the last 5:38 of play.
Will there be any carryover from that game into Saturday?
The two teams will meet for a final time to close out the regular season in Buffalo on April 30.