With the 2018 season behind the Buffalo Bandits, it’s back to the drawing board for next season. This year, there was improvement for the Bandits as they saw consistency in their goaltending after the retirement of Anthony Cosmo.
The 2018 season started off on the right foot for Buffalo as they beat their QEW rival, the Toronto Rock, in a 13-9 win in Banditland. This win against not only a rival opponent, but also a solid team, showed that the Bandits were a real threat this season.
The Bandits rode some momentum into the midway point of the season on a four-game win streak after beating the Georgia Swarm. The 6-3 Bandits seemed like they would have enough in the tank to make a real playoff push.
But, after failing to earn a win in their next four games, the playoff picture that was once vividly clear seemed hazier than ever. Going down the stretch into the final games, Buffalo bounced back to claim first place in the Eastern Division after a 14-11 win over the New England Black Wolves.
With just four games left in the season, optimism in Banditland was riding high as the team showed its offensive and defensive power in the games prior. But just as the second half of the season started, three consecutive losses put out the flame on the Bandits postseason hopes.
Multiple losses in a row was the season story for the Bandits. Though they were able to string together their fair share of back-to-back wins, it was the reverse side of those games that cost Buffalo a shot in the playoffs. With a final regular season record of 8-10, if Buffalo had been able to stop the sliding in the standings when it mattered, their season story could have been completely different.
Buffalo’s 240 goals against in the summation of the season campaign would be good for third-last in the category, just 37 fewer than last-place Vancouver. This shows that though their goaltending was great when it needed to be, there is still much room for improvement. Alex Buque played the bulk of the minutes when Davide DiRuscio was injured early; Zach Higgins backed up the rest of the season but stole a few starts from Buque.
Though the goals were going in their own net, they were putting them in the opponent’s as well. With 232 goals for the orange and black, offensive production was a positive in the locker room. Dhane Smith had another career year with the Bandits as he scored 105 points in just 18 games played. His average of five points per game was exactly what the Bandits needed on the offensive side of the ball. Smith just keeps getting better, and came not too far off his NLL record 137 points in 2016.
The Bandits also acquired righty forward Shawn Evans from the New England Black Wolves. Evans, perennially in the mix for scoring champion, didn’t have quite as good a year as he’s known for, but expect him to rebound next season now that he’s comfortable in Buffalo. Now 32 years old, Evans may be transitioning into more of a playmaking role – he’s currently second in scoring for his summer league with four goals but 27 assists. Smith is first 13 goals and 20 assists.
Going into next season, there are questions that have to be answered in Banditland. But with the improvements that have been built upon last season, the 2019 Buffalo Bandits will be a must see attraction in the next NLL season.