On Sunday night, the Buffalo Bandits defeated the Toronto Rock 18-17 in Game 1 of the East Conference Finals, but they played for much more than to take a 1-0 series lead.
Less than a 10-minute drive from KeyBank Center, ten people were killed and three others were injured Saturday in a racially motivated attack at at a Tops market on Jefferson Avenue.
“It was an extremely emotional 24 hours for all of us,” Josh Byrne said. “Especially myself being half Black – my mom’s from Trinidad and Tobago – and to see such a hate crime happen in pretty much our backyard, it was very upsetting.
“It kind of shocks you to what the real world is really like. … That’s just pure hatred. That’s what we’re really fighting for, is the world to understand that and for people to see what Black people cope with on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard, and it’s scary, but it’s the truth.”
The incident propelled Dhane Smith to address the team pregame, during which he opened up about his own experiences with racism and the “why” behind his own career.
“I play lacrosse because I love it, but also because I want to show kids of color that they can be the top of their level,” Smith said.
The emotional message resonated with Byrne.
“This one was definitely more than a game,” Byrne said. “It’s a big point of emphasis for us to play for others who can’t, and tonight was for those victims and those families that were affected yesterday.”
The Bandits honored the victims pregame with a moment of silence. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by Marchon Hamilton II, a worship leader and campus minister at the University at Buffalo.
Banditland rallied to raise a team record $32,772 toward the 50/50 raffle, with proceeds benefitting the families of the victims Saturday’s tragedy.
Tonight’s 50/50 hit a Bandits record high with a total of $32,772.
Thank you to everyone who helped support the victims’ families. 🧡 https://t.co/WkwWIukfko
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) May 16, 2022
“In a time where it just doesn’t feel right to play, to see Banditland come out and show support was a really special feeling,” Byrne said. “As a team, we talked about this being a medicine game because everyone came together and healed one another.”
Byrne and Smith led the Bandits to victory in dramatic fashion. Byrne was the First Star with four goals and seven assists. Smith, the Second Star, had three goals and seven assists.
Both teams went on runs in the high-scoring contest, which opened with the Bandits taking a 5-2 lead in the first quarter. The Bandits would twice trail by a pair of goals despite that early lead, finally pulling ahead with a run of five goals in a span of 3:39 during the fourth.
Smith’s final goal put Buffalo up 18-16 with less than two minutes remaining. Tom Schreiber scored for Toronto with 10 seconds left and Rob Hellyer hit the post before the final horn sounded.
Smith credited Banditland for showing up as they have been the team’s backbone all season and described how rewarding it was for the team to provide fans with enjoyment during these tough times.
“We wanted to win for the city of Buffalo tonight because it’s just such an emotional time, and if we could bring a smile to their face just a little bit, it meant a lot to us,” Smith said.
The Bandits can clinch a trip to the NLL Finals with a win in Game 2 next Saturday at FirstOntario Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
If Toronto evens up the series, the teams would play a decisive Game 3 at KeyBank Center on Saturday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m.