Justin Ivey, Co-Editor and NLL Correspondent
Lacrosse is Awesome©
The Buffalo Bandits are headed to the NLL Finals for the first time since 2019. Game 1 highlighted the offense, and as many expected, Game 2 was a defensive battle. Matt Vinc (42 SV) set a new Bandits record with his fifth post season victory for the franchise while Josh Byrne (2G, 6A) and Dhane Smith (2G, 4A) mustered up just enough offense to leave Toronto fans in shock. The game was .2 seconds from overtime. A last ditch 6 on 5 effort from the Rock had a ball beat Vinc, but after reviewing it was deemed just a few tenths of a second too late and Buffalo was able to wrap up the three-game series with their second straight victory. Final Score: Buffalo-10, Toronto-9.
Veteran forward Kyle Buchanan (1G, 1A) got the scoring started with an impressive individual effort. After fighting for a loose ball in front of the net against two Rock defenders, he scooped the ball, dodged his way through the double team and across the crease, and eventually beat Toronto goaltender Nick Rose (39 SV) after numerous fakes. On the road and just 2:17 in, the Bandits had the early advantage. Unlike Game 1, the fans had to wait a while for the next goal, a theme that would repeat itself. The defenses had the upper hand Saturday, forcing shots that the goaltenders could see. Active sticks and a play the body first mentality from both sides set the pace for a low scoring game early. Toronto tied the game at 1-1 8:32 in when Brandon Slade (1G, 1A) floated his way to the crease with excellent footwork from a dodge up top. Before the end of the quarter though, Byrne found net for the first time of the evening on an acrobatic finish in close to give the lead back to the visiting Bandits. At the end of the first quarter, Buffalo led Toronto 2-1.
Buffalo extended the lead to two goals 2:28 into the second. Connor Fields (1G, 1A) got the tally finishing a juicy rebound after a shot from Smith. Latrell Harris (1G, 1A) was able to get the deficit back to one, scoring in transition for the Rock. Tensions started to boil over and the remainder of the second quarter was scoreless, but there were plenty of shoving matches. At the half, Buffalo led Toronto 3-2.
Tom Schreiber (3G, 2A) opened the scoring in the second half ripping a laser on a rope from way up top that beat Vinc glove side, and the game was tied at 3-3. Chris Cloutier (2G, 2A) put the Bandits back in the lead on the next possession, but Josh Jubenville (1G, 1A) scored the Rock’s second transition goal to knot the game back up just 5:29 in. Toronto had done a good job staying out of the penalty box, but in the remainder of the third quarter the Bandits scored two on a man advantage. Smith and Cloutier both found the net on assists from Byrne. At the end of the third quarter, Buffalo led Toronto 6-4.
Schreiber started the fourth quarter with another laser from the top just 49 seconds in this time and the home team Rock were down just one again. The Bandits stood tall and made a statement, answering with a three-goal run. Smith started it off with a bull dodge from the top. Chase Fraser (2G) tallied the second before “Air Byrne” made another appearance to put the visitors up 9-5 with 6:50 remaining. The Rock dug deep and responded with their own three-goal run. Rob Hellyer (2G, 3A) found the net just 41 seconds after Byrne. Daniel Craig (1G, 1A) used a textbook face dodge to score just 28 seconds later, and then Hellyer again found net before the ten-minute mark. The three goal Buffalo run was answered with Toronto’s three-goal run in less than two minutes. Both teams were anxiously held scoreless for a short time before Fraser extended the lead to two again with 3:34 left in the game. With just 46 ticks remaining, Schreiber scored his hat trick goal to bring the Rock back within one. Challen Rogers (1A) released a pass to Craig on the crease who then quick sticked the ball in past Vinc as the clock expired and upon review, the goal was determined to be just too late. Final Score: Buffalo-10, Toronto-9.
The Buffalo Bandits await the winner of the Colorado Mammoth and San Diego Seals for the NLL Finals.