NLL: Bandits one win away from NLL title after Weiss’ last-minute game winner

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It was an absolute electric factory at KeyBank Center in Buffalo for game one of the NLL Finals on Saturday night. Words, pictures and videos don’t do it justice, really. The Colorado Mammoth had quite the task, as they came in trying to take game one on the road and flip the home field advantage. Colorado may play at “The Loud House,” but man, there’s something special about Banditland.

14,274 fans were on the edge of their seats for a full 60 minutes as these two powerhouse clubs went back and forth. The roof nearly blew off the arena as Nick Weiss buried the GWG with 51 seconds remaining to push Buffalo to a 15-14 win in game one.

Dhane Smith was asked before the game how it feels to get another crack at the NLL Cup.

“A lot of nerves, a lot of excitement, we’re just ready to go,” he said. “Every team in this league is great, we just have to focus on ourselves and play our game, and everything else will take care of itself.”

Let’s get to the action, shall we? One way to silence Banditland is to make a stop right away and get on the board first. Colorado did just that. Brett McIntyre received a pass and fired a nice shot past Matt Vinc. Buffalo regained the momentum with a four-goal run. First, Josh “Air” Byrne, cleared for takeoff. Next, Smith fired a quick shot past Dillon Ward on the power play. The third goal was arguably the goal of the game. Buffalo’s own Connor Fields received a pass right at the front of the crease and had nowhere to go, so what better than to fire a behind-the-back shot. The Bandits seem to have SportsCenter on speed dial this year. As everyone was catching their breath from Fields’ goal, Smith came down five seconds after and beat Ward with a skipper from the restraining line. 4-1 Buffalo after one.

The second quarter started and the scoring definitely picked up. Chase Fraser added to the Buffalo lead with a snipe from the slot. Colorado stopped the bleeding with two goals from Connor Robinson and Zed Williams. Dynamic rookie Tehoka Nanticoke found the back of the net next with a nice twister over a defender. Spoiler, this won’t be the last time you hear from TN1.

The oddest moment of the game came just after Nanticoke’s goal. Eli McLaughlin received a pass right at the crease, but he missed the ball, it bounced off his stick and went into the net. At this point in the quarter, both teams started trading punches, figuratively. Smith got his hat trick and Nanticoke got his second, only to be answered by three straight from Colorado’s Williams, McLaughlin and McIntyre. With three and two minutes remaining, respectively, Nanticoke got his hat trick and Robinson got his second, to put us at 9-8 Buffalo going into the half.

There wasn’t much transition to speak of in the first half. A lot of focus was put on defense and making stops. Both goaltenders were as good as advertised, as Vinc stopped 16 of 24 and Ward went 15 of 24.

The start of the third quarter was a continuation of the Nanticoke show. TN1 got his fourth and fifth goals of the night, to bump the Bandits’ lead to 11-8. Much needed start for the orange and black, as they were leading the whole game, but Colorado just wouldn’t go away. The Mammoth scored three of the next four goals. McLaughlin and McIntyre got their hat tricks, Wardle got his first, and for Buffalo, Byrne got his second, and with a bang. Call SportsCenter, we have another sick behind-the-back goal. 12-11 Buffalo going into the final frame.

The fourth was tit-for-tat. Anything you can do, I can do better, of sorts. Robinson got his hat trick to kick off the quarter, only to be answered by Chris Cloutier. Williams got his hat trick, only to be answered by Byrne getting his. With under two minutes remaining, the Mammoth needed an answer. Who but Zed Williams, notching his fourth. Tie game. No time to catch your breath, however. After some back-and-forth, with lock down defense and stout goaltending, Ian MacKay scooped up a loose ball and took it down the floor in transition. MacKay dumped it off to a streaking Nick Weiss, who came in, pumped and head faked a few times and beat Ward with 51 seconds remaining. The crowd was deafening. Maybe the loudest it’s ever been. The Mammoth had a shot at the end of the game, as McLaughlin found himself at the doorstep with a chance to tie. Vinc said no. Your final, 15-14 Buffalo. Now you can breathe.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Nanticoke (5+2), Byrne (3+4), Smith (3+4) and Weiss, who had the game winner. Vinc put his experience to work, standing tall late, and stopping 40 of 54 on the night. For Colorado, it was their big three. Williams (4+4), McLaughlin (3+5), and Robinson (3+6) led the way. Ward’s performance was nothing to scoff at either, as he stopped 40 of 55 on the night.

Nanticoke sat down for an interview earlier this week, and he was asked about any words of wisdom he’s received since entering the league.

“The only words of wisdom I can think of is Ethan O’Connor, when I met him a few years ago, is just don’t suck.” Giggling, Nanticoke added, “it’s one of the easiest and most realistic advices I’ve ever gotten, because you never want to suck.” It’s become quite the joke in Banditland, as there were a ton of signs in the crowd that said exactly that, just don’t suck. Nanticoke definitely didn’t suck in this one.

Nick Weiss, an unfamiliar face in the post game press conferences, was visibly ecstatic after the game. He broke down what he was thinking right before he scored the game winner.

“I started running, and he (MacKay) gave it to me. Most of the guys on my team knew exactly where I was shooting the ball. I saw the way he (Ward) was standing, and it was there. I took that exact shot, and it went in.”

Head coach of the Bandits, John Tavares had to catch his breath for a moment as well.

“They hadn’t taken the lead. I would be cringing if they did, but they just couldn’t get there, and I think that saved us.”

Tavares also praised Nanticoke, adding “it seemed like he was more confident, he can score three to five goals a game.”

Buffalo sits pretty with a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three. Game two is at Ball Arena, a.k.a “The Loud House,” in Denver next Saturday. The crowd will most certainly be comparable to that in Banditland. The stage is set, either Buffalo wins their fifth championship, or Colorado forces a game three. This is going to be fun. Game two is a 9 p.m. ET start on June 11th.