NLL: Bandits stay atop the league with big win over Philadelphia

Buffalo Bandits v Philadelphia Wings at KeyBank Center, Mar 12, 2022. Photo by Joe Hrycych

The boys were back in town. The Buffalo Bandits returned home to KeyBank Center after two weeks worth of wins on the road at Rochester and Albany. Looking to continue their winning ways, a win against the Wings would give them sole possession of first place in the NLL. As for the Wings, they were looking to stop a three-game skid and find some ground in a very cramped middle of the East Division standings.

Ironically enough, it was “wing night” in Buffalo. The Bandits feasted on all sorts of wings. Hot, medium, mild, Philadelphia… The Bandits played a near perfect game, tossing the Wings, 17-5. Most importantly, this bumped the Bandits to 10-1 for the first time in franchise history.

Enough of the corny wing puns, this game had a ton of action, goals, and highlight reel plays. Long time great Buffalo sports announcer Rick Jeanneret has notoriously said “roll the highlight film.” Say no more Rick, let’s get to it.

If someone told you that 22 goals were scored in a game, but after the first quarter it was only 2-1, would you believe them? Start believing. This contest didn’t see a goal until the 6:46 mark in the first. Matt Rambo opened the scoring for the Wings, only to be answered a minute later by Chase Fraser. This being the first of many highlight reel goals. Fraser dove across the crease and was hit in midair, only to finish the shot with one hand. Assistant captain Dhane Smith added another to make it 2-1 Buffalo at the end of the quarter.

From this point forward it seemed like it was Tehoka Nanticoke’s show. A hat trick in one quarter will do that. The dynamic rookie for Buffalo scored two goals in the first four minutes of the quarter and Fraser added another shortly thereafter to bump the Bandits’ lead to 5-1. Kevin Crowley notched one for the Wings, only to be answered by Nanticoke, giving him the hat trick. 6-2 Buffalo going into the half. Goaltender Matt Vinc was stellar, stopping 24 of 26. His opposition and former Bandit Zach Higgins struggled a bit, stopping 25 of 31.

“I think our guys are doing a good job,” said Bandits’ assistant coach Steve Dietrich. “Good communication on the floor and on the bench. It also helps when Matt Vinc is your goalie, but I thought we did a good job.”

Dietrich was also cagey when asked about the looming trade deadline.

“It’ll probably get a little more active Monday or Tuesday, but I like what we got here; maybe we just continue with what we have.”

The second half was completely owned by Buffalo, who outscored Philadelphia 5-1 and 6-2 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Nanticoke opened the scoring for Buffalo in the third. Shocker there. Big, strong, bull-headed are all adjectives to describe the rookie and this goal proved those to be true. Number one took a pass and drove right through three defenders weaving in and out, while getting beaten the whole way, before sniping a shot past Higgins. Ian MacKay and Philadelphia’s Corey Small traded goals less than a minute apart to make it 8-3 Buffalo. Two more from Smith and Fraser gave Buffalo the 10-spot on the night.

But wait, there’s more. With 18 seconds left in the third, Josh Byrne submitted his ballot for goal of the year. With the shot clock expiring, Byrne picked up a loose ball in the corner and backed down a Wings’ defender. From way out, he fired a slick behind-the-back shot that beat Higgins low left. Da-Da-Da, Da-Da-Da. 11-3 Buffalo going into the final frame.

Philadelphia made the scoreboard look a little better with two quick goals from Small and Kiel Matisz, but that was about it for them. Buffalo has had a knack for taking their foot off the gas late in games this year. Not on this night. Chris Cloutier and Connor Fields took over and traded goals late in the fourth. Cloutier, Fields, Cloutier, Fields, to make it 15-5. After Fields’ first goal, the Wings pulled Higgins and replaced him with Angus Goodleaf. No fault on Goodleaf, but coming in cold and in a blowout isn’t necessarily conducive to staging a comeback. The veteran and loose ball magnet Kyle Buchanan found the back of the net with an absolute snipe with 2:42 left in the game. Nanticoke got his fifth of the evening just 15 seconds after Bucky. Your final, 17-5 Bandits.

Players for the game for Buffalo would include Smith (2+10), Byrne (1+8), Fraser (3+0), and Nanticoke (5+1). Philadelphia’s would be Small, who notched two of the team’s five goals.

Vinc shone all night long, eliminating any chances by Philadelphia and stopping 49 of 54. Higgins gave up 13 goals before his removal from the game at the 8:10 mark in the fourth. Goodleaf let in four goals on five shots.

“I have been teammates with both Higgins and Goodleaf,” said Vinc. “That’s the way lacrosse is sometimes, I’m just fortunate enough to be on the other side tonight.”

Head coach John Tavares was asked quite simply after the game, any complaints?

“You don’t change what’s broken. I did throw in a couple of plays, and they worked well. Today everything was working. I wish I was playing on the offense, that looked like fun.”

Buffalo (10-1) has a week off to prepare for a home-and-home next the weekend against Halifax (8-3). The first of those matchups is at KeyBank Center on Saturday, March 26. Philadelphia (5-7) is also off until the 26th when they travel to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks (3-8).