NLL: Bandits secure first place

Andrew Suitor (20) and Joel Coyle attempt to stop Dhane Smith. Buffalo Bandits vs New England Black Wolves at KeyBank Center, April 20, 2019. (Photo by Bill Wippert)

There’s no place like home, especially during the playoffs. For the Buffalo Bandits, they’ll enjoy being home for as long as they’re in the postseason as their 12-6 win over the New England Black Wolves and the Philadelphia Wings’ 19-14 victory over the Georgia Swarm clinched home floor advantage for Buffalo. Their first-round matchup will be against the Black Wolves on Saturday, May 4th at 7:30 p.m.

Head coach John Tavares was pleased with his team’s all-around performance against New England.

“I thought we did the little things right,” he said. “Theyre a really good transition team and we gave them zero transition opportunities. I also thought our defense played great, especially in the second half.”

The Bandits’ mission was clear from the opening faceoff: get a lead and hold on until the end game. Buffalo and New England exchanged the first four goals of the game, with Dhane Smith, who scored 30 seconds in, and Josh Byrne scoring for the Bandits while Tyler Digby and Callum Crawford led the way for the Black Wolves. However, Thomas Hoggarth, Chase Fraser and Corey Small added a goal each in their stat line, giving the Bandits a three-goal lead. That lead dwindled down to one thanks to back-to-back goals by Joe Resetarits, but it was a 5-4 lead for Buffalo heading into the second quarter.

The Bandits pulled away from the Black Wolves before halftime. Bandits’ defenseman Nick Weissand Chris Cloutier extended the Bandits’ lead back to three goals. Small scored his second goal of the game before the end of the half and kept Buffalo’s lead at three despite Digby’s second goal. The Bandits went in the locker room with an 8-5 advantage.

The defenses for both teams took over in the second half, limiting the opposing team to one goal each in the third, which was bad news for the Black Wolves. Dave Emala trimmed the Bandits’lead to two goals just under 30 seconds into the third quarter, but Cloutier tallied his second score of the game to give Buffalo a 9-6 lead.

Small got the fourth quarter going with his third goal of the game, giving him a hat trick for the game. Ethan O’Connor and Ian MacKay, who scored an empty netter, sealed the 12-6 win for the Bandits.

Following the game, Smith told reporters he felt this year’s Bandits’ team was different from years past.

“I knew from the beginning of training camp that we had something special and we went out there and proved it. We had some lapses over the course of the season, but good teams find a way and we found a way tonight.”

“When you see the guys we brought in this offseason, the youth on this team, and then when you add Matt Vinc in net, you know that first place is a possibility,” Small agreed. “Its been a real battle and theres a lot of good teams. We got home floor and that was the first step and the next step is getting a win against San Diego and then on to the playoffs.”

It’s the first time since 2016 that the Bandits, who tied a franchise record with 13 wins this season, clinched home-floor advantage for the playoffs. But before Buffalo hosts New England again in May, the Bandits will travel to San Diego to take on the Seals, who have also clinched a home-floor berth, to close out the 2018-19 season on Saturday, April 27th.