Following a long and grueling 24-game season for the Buffalo Bandits, it all comes down to this.
Buffalo plays the final game of a best-of-three series against the Colorado Mammoth in the NLL Finals on Saturday night at KeyBank Center. Buffalo lost its two previous finals appearances and hasn’t won an NLL title since 2008.
Colorado responded to Buffalo’s 15-14 narrow victory in Game 1 with a statement of its own, tying the series at one following a 11-8 win last Saturday at Ball Arena.
Even without leading-scorer Eli McLaughlin in Game 2, Colorado had multiple players rise to the occasion to keep its season alive.
“The team who wants it more on Saturday will come out with the win,” Bandits head coach John Tavares said. “Last weekend it was them, and we have worked hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Faceoff between is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU and can be heard locally on WGR550.
The team will host a Party in the Plaza outside KeyBank Center beginning at 6 p.m.
🚨 Party in the Plaza this Saturday starting at 6pm! 🚨
BE THERE, BANDITLAND.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) June 15, 2022
Here is everything you need to know.
Sold Out Banditland Crowd
Many players have spoken out about how Banditland has been the backbone of their success all season long. Prior to Game 2, Dhane Smith mentioned the team’s emphasis on winning the series on the road even though it would be great to do it in front of their home fans.
As the series shifts back to Western New York, Banditland responded with an outpour of support. For the first time all season long, KeyBank Center will be sold out.
Tavares, who has spent more time in the organization than anyone, both as a player and coach, said how excited he is for this group to experience a true Banditland crowd.
“The guys got a taste of it in Game 1, but they are in store for a treat on Saturday night, and I think they are ready for it,” he said.
Is this good ? https://t.co/j2f5DZrwNl
— Dhane Smith (@dhanesmith92) June 16, 2022
Nick Weiss admitted that the nearly 14,000 fans at the opening game of the Finals was by far the craziest crowd he ever played in front of.
“There’s no place like this, and that’s a game that I’ll be remembering for a long, long time,” he said.
Players also know that a packed house and true home-field advantage means giving the fans what they want: an NLL title.
Tehoka Nanticoke played the most memorable game of his rookie campaign in Game 1, manifesting the dream he had to play in the Finals.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a holding a child wearing a JT Jersey running around the backyard,” he said. “This is everything I expected from Banditland, and I love it.”
How Buffalo got here
The Bandits entered the 2021-22 season with a vengeance and only one goal on their mind. The majority of the team was around for the loss in the 2019 NLL Finals against the Calgary Roughnecks, a series in which they were swept in two games.
Buffalo went 7-4 before its season was halted by the pandemic, ending its playoffs hopes before they even began. They would have to wait even longer to redeem their finals loss as the NLL didn’t play any games throughout 2021.
Last offseason, general manager Steve Dietrich added key pieces like Connor Fields and Kyle Buchanan along with drafting Nanticoke in the first round to complete the already talented roster.
Buffalo came hot out of the gates and set the league on notice by winning its first six games. Toronto handed the Bandits their first loss in Hamilton on February 12 before responding with seven straight wins.
Even though Buffalo lost two of its last three regular-season games, a 14-4 record clinched the top spot in the league. In the opening round of the postseason, the Bandits dominated No. 4 Albany 10-5 on May 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against No. 2 Toronto.
The Rock were a tough matchup for Buffalo, as they were responsible for two of the Bandits’ losses during the regular season. Both games went down to the final seconds, but Buffalo prevailed in one-goal victories to advance to the franchise’s 11th championship appearance.
Now in the last game of the finals, just 60 minutes can make or break Buffalo’s championship aspirations.
“If I told the guys way back when we started practicing in December that we would be in this position with just one game remaining, I’m pretty confident that they would be pretty excited about this opportunity,” Tavares said.
Coveted First Championship
Tavares also imagined how it would feel to raise his fifth banner with the Bandits organization. Even though Saturday would be his first as a coach, he believes that the feeling would be the same as it was in 1992, ‘93, ‘96, and 2008.
He did mention that even though the feeling would be great for himself, Tavares wants the championship to happen more for the guys who haven’t had the same luxury as winning a title with Buffalo.
“I’d just be so ecstatic for the guys like Dhane, Steve [Priolo], Josh [Byrne] that still are waiting to win their first championship,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard to get to this point and have been through the heartbreak of losing, so we hope to change that.”