After an incredible record breaking 2016 NLL regular season that saw the team secure first place in both the Eastern Division and the National Lacrosse League, and set a new franchise single-season record with 13 wins, the Buffalo Bandits will not be satisfied until they’re finally able to bring their fifth championship back home to the fans in Banditland.
The organization’s drive for five begins Monday night when the Bandits take their show on the road to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT for Game 1 of the Eastern Division Finals against their division rival the New England Black Wolves.
With the Bandits receiving two weeks off since they secured the Eastern Division, the team did receive some much needed time off to help those players dealing with nagging injuries and to shake up their offensive and defensive strategies against the Black Wolves.
In their three matchups during the regular season, the Black Wolves came away with the 15-11 home victory against the Bandits January 30 at the Mohegan Sun Arena while the Bandits were able to exact a little bit of revenge with two home victories at the First Niagara Center on February 6 with the 12-10 victory and the April 30 12-7 divisional clinching win.
One of the players who will be pivotal in leading the Bandits to the Eastern Division championship against the Black Wolves will be the 2016 NLL leader in scoring, forward Dhane Smith.
The 24-year-old Kitchener, Ontario native had a truly record-breaking season for the ages. With 137 points (72 goals, 65 assists), Smith not only broke the NLL’s single-season points record (formerly 130 points, set last year by Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans), he also broke the NLL’s single-season record for goals scored with 72 (formerly 71, set in 2008 by Athan Ianucci).
In addition to Smith coming up big offensively on the score sheet during the regular season, the Bandits offense have a lot of depth and with future NLL Hall of Fame offensive coach John Tavares leading the multi-layered attack, there is an excellent reason why the Bandits were the NLL’s league leader in goals scored this season with 251.
The rest of team’s offense during the entire regular season has been led by the outstanding play of forwards Ryan Benesch (92 PTS, 39 G, 53 A), Mark Steenhuis (72 PTS, 34 G, 38 A), transition specialist Alexander-Kedoh Hill (39 PTS, 16 G, 23 A), 2015 draft selection Anthony Malcom (38 PTS, 17 G, 21 A) and the addition of former Calgary Roughneck Daryl Veltman (38 PTS, 14 G, 24 A).
While the Black Wolves will have their sights set on Bandits forward Dhane Smith, the Bandits defense will have their sights locked on Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans. During the 2016 NLL regular season, the two-time MVP just completed his fourth-straight 100 point season as he finished second in the league in scoring with 118 points (50 G, 68 A) in 17 games played.
Besides Evans, the Black Wolves have been led by the outstanding play of forwards Kevin Crowley (90 PTS, 33 G, 57 A), Pat Saunders (76 PTS, 44 G, 32 A), Kevin Buchanan (62 PTS, 24 G, 38 A), Kyle Buchanan (59 PTS, 29 G, 30 A) and Jordan Hall (51 PTS, 18 G, 33 A).
In the battle between the pipes, Bandits starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo will be facing Black Wolves starting goaltender Evan Kirk. During the 2016 NLL regular 18 game season, Cosmo ranked sixth in goals against average with 11.73 while Kirk ranked seventh with 11.79. Regarding save percentage it was Cosmo who ranked third with .783 while Kirk was ranked second with .789. While Cosmo did go down early on in the first quarter during their Week 18 matchup, hopefully the two-week rest resulting from the Bandits picking up the bye week will see him return fully healed and ready to go.