The party will continue in Buffalo after the Bandits defeated the Toronto Rock 12-8 on Saturday night in the NLL’s Eastern Division final. The Bandits will host games one and three (if necessary) of the NLL Cup beginning next Saturday, May 18 against the Calgary Roughnecks.
The Bandits have won the Cup four previous times, but three of those wins came in the 90s. Their most recent championship was 2008 – 11 years ago. Banditland is hungry for the title and captain Steve Priolo says the players are ready to deliver.
“This is the best place to play in the world,” he stated to bandits.com. “These fans are incredible. You saw them out there on their feet all the time. You don’t want to win a championship for yourself, but for everyone else around you. It carries through that locker room and right into those stands. You want to win a championship for this city and take it through the streets and have a party.”
The Bandits were favoured heading into the match, but the Rock weren’t to be taken lightly. Toronto took the season series between the clubs 2-1, winning once in Buffalo and once at home in dramatic OT fashion.
This one was reminiscent of the clubs’ most recent game, an 8-6 win for the Bandits. Goals were hard to come by for both teams as Matt Vinc and Nick Rose always play each other tightly in goal. Their head-to-head battles are some of the most exciting goaltender duels in league history.
Dhane Smith opened the scoring at 2:27, fighting off Challen Rogers, who had draped himself over the 2016 league MVP and couldn’t have done any more. Smith still scored, getting an arm free for a sidearm shot. Adam Jones replied on a power play at 4:08, but Josh Byrne replied quickly to retake the lead. Brock Sorensen then went high-to-low on a transition shot to knot the teams at two by the 4:47 mark, which is when everyone began to settle in, especially the goalies who turned away every ensuing shot in the frame.
Corey Small and Smith each had great chances with under 10 seconds remaining in the period, but Small went high over the crossbar and Smith was stopped by Rose. Rob Hellyer made a great play in the first to block a shot from Steve Priolo on transition, a part of his game in which he is deadly.
Rogers scored Toronto’s only goal of the second on the power play at 8:49 from his quarterback position. Buffalo followed that with four unanswered. Small and Bryce Sweeting both scored on quick-stick shots from the left side. Small then put a low bullet shot in, and Shawn Evans slipped a laser in between the post and Rose’s right pad. Small kept getting chances and hit the post at the buzzer before Chase Fraser and Billy Hostraswer came together with some pushing and shoving with Buffalo headed to the dressing room up 6-3.
Matt Spanger scored in transition to start the third. Corey Small then collected a power play goal to put the Bandits up 8-3. The Rock wouldn’t roll over though, and kept chipping away at the lead. Kieran McArdle finished Tom Schreiber’s cross-floor pass less than a minute after Small’s goal. Rogers and Jones scored their second goals of the game to cut their deficit to 8-6.
Jones continued to drive the Rock’s offense, closing the gap to 8-7 three minutes into the fourth. Six of Toronto’s eight goals game from their left side.
Buffalo roared back in response, scoring four, including an empty netter with 2:30 to go. The always energetic Chase Fraser had another big fourth quarter, scoring twice after being denied a highlight-reel diving goal earlier in the second after a challenge.
“They came back and got within one goal there, but the transition came up and took advantage of that opportunity and got some goals in the back of the net,” Fraser said. “It was a great team effort tonight and hopefully we can bring a championship back to Buffalo.”
The Rock have been an exciting team since Tom Schreiber joined the squad in 2017, but they have yet to make it past the second round, even missing the playoffs completely last year. Their last championship came in 2011.
“Ultimately, they were better than us tonight,” said Toronto head coach Matt Sawyer in a Rock press release. “We struggled in the first half and dug ourselves a bit too much of a hole. We surged back at the end and made a game of it. We just made a few too many mistakes tonight and took too long to get going all over the floor. We fought right to the end and (this experience) is something we’ll have to build on.”
Vinc made 43 saves while holding Schreiber (4A), Hellyer (3A), Dan Lintner and Johnny Powless goalless. Adam Jones led the Rock with four goals and three assists. Rogers scored twice and added one assist. Rose made 45 saves.
Small led Buffalo with three goals. Shawn Evans scored twice and added two assists. Fraser scored twice. Dhane Smith scored once and assisted on four others. Steve Priolo also assisted on four goals. Josh Byrne and Bryce Sweeting each had a goal and assist.
Fraser and Schreiber led their teams with 12 and 11 shots, respectively.
2019 NLL Playoff Finals Schedule
|Game 1||Saturday, May 18||7:30 p.m. ET||KeyBank Center|
|Game 2||Saturday, May 25||9:00 p.m. ET||Scotiabank Saddledome|
|*Game 3||Friday, May 31||8:00 p.m. ET||KeyBank Center|