NLL: Bandits find offensive spark, clinch league’s number one seed 

Kyle Buchanan goes for the dunk. Buffalo Bandits @ Albany FireWolves, April 29, 2023. (Photo: Albany FireWolves/NLL)

Going into the final game of the regular season, the Buffalo Bandits and Albany FireWolves were in two totally different positions. Buffalo sat in first place in the East Conference and looked to lock up the league’s top spot with a win. Albany, who clinched a playoff spot in last year’s playoffs, were simply playing for moral victories at this point this year. A huge question around Buffalo was them finding their offensive spark. Sorry FireWolves faithful, but the boys in the orange and black looked to have found that spark.

Every big name on Buffalo’s offensive “line” scored a goal and had a major role in this game. The Bandits exploded offensively with a convincing 16-10 victory over Albany. Ready, set, go!

Buffalo wasted little time getting on the board first, as they tallied the first two goals of the game. The first was a nice bouncer from Chase Fraser and the other was a transition goal by Nick Weiss, which was shorthanded. Buffalo must’ve felt a spark from the absurd amount of Banditland faithful who made the trip to Albany.  Ethan Walker got the FireWolves on the board with a power play marker. The rest of the quarter was “every other” type scoring. Kyle Buchanan scored the next Buffalo goal sneaking to the front of the crease, but was answered by Connor Kelly. Chris Cloutier got his first, but was answered by Kelly’s second. 4-3 Buffalo after one.

Albany got their first and only lead in this game to begin the second quarter. Kelly got his hat trick and Hiana Thompson got his first to give them the one-goal advantage. Buffalo answered with a three-goal run of their own. Cloutier got his second and third, and Fraser got his second. On Cloutier’s hat trick goal, he received a pass and fired a bullet. Who did he receive the pass from? Of course it was Dhane Smith. With his third assist of the night, Dhaner broke his own record for most assists in a single season. Unreal stuff from the Buffalo assistant captain. Albany scored next to cut the deficit and it was a beauty. Jake Fox received a pass in the slot and fired a behind-the-back shot that beat Matt Vinc. Gorgeous. Buffalo, well, Josh Byrne really, scored the next two to close out the quarter. The first was a shorthanded bullet. The second was tic-tac-toe starting with Vinc, to Ian MacKay with a filthy behind-the-back feed, and the finish from Byrne. 9-6 Bandits at the break.

Vinc was stellar in the first half, making timely saves to keep Buffalo in front. The veteran made 24 saves on 30 shots. On the other side, Doug Jamieson had a tough go of it, stopping 18 of 27.

“This is one of the deepest teams I’ve ever been a part of,” said Cloutier at halftime. “With that, comes a weight off your shoulders as an individual, on no given night do I feel like I need to go out and have three goals. It’s super nice to have just anyone on the floor being able to go off for that special night.”

Buffalo continued their dominance as they scored the first four goals of the third quarter. Scorers were Tehoka Nanticoke, Fraser, his hat trick, Cloutier, his fourth, and Adam Bomberry, his first as a Bandit. On Cloutier’s fourth, Jamieson exited and on came Justin Geddie. Kelly got his fourth to close the quarter out. In the blink of an eye, 13-7 Buffalo at the end of three.

Smith got his first of the game on the power play to open the fourth, but was answered by Walker’s second. Byrne got his hat trick and Smith got his second, and this one was getting out of hand. Albany made the scoreboard look a little better as Corson Kealey and John Piatelli got their first of the game, but that would be it for this one. Your final from MVP Arena, 16-10 Buffalo.

Players of the game for Albany were Kelly (4+3), Walker (2+3), and Fox (1+3). Jamieson just couldn’t get into a groove, making 21 saves on 32 shots in 35:04 of game play. Geddie did what he could, making 10 saves on 14 shots in 24:56 of game time. For Buffalo, Cloutier (4+1), Byrne (3+5), and Fraser (3+3) led the way. Vinc was sparkling, making 40 saves on 48 shots in 51:48 of game time. Devlin Shanahan came on in the fourth, presumably just to get some work and to give Vinc some rest. The youngster was stout, stopping 10 of 12 in 8:12.

“We’ve really been injury bitten a lot,” said Byrne after the game. “To get all our guys back, to kind of, get in that rhythm again, it felt good. Best fans in the entire league, whenever they get behind us, it really gets us fired up. Looking forward to going to the playoffs here.”

The March to May goes through Buffalo as the Bandits locked up the league’s number one spot. They travel back home to take on the visiting Rochester Knighthawks in a one-and-done opening round East Conference matchup. That contest is Saturday night at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center.