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 Buffalo Bandits

'It Takes a Whole Team to Win a Championship': Bandits Rally Together to Win 2nd Straight NLL Cup

May 18, 2024 - National Lacrosse League (NLL)
Buffalo Bandits News Release

Thirteen Bandits found the scoresheet in the 15-13 win over Albany.

Ian MacKay felt the Buffalo Bandits came into this season with a target on their backs after defeating the Colorado Mammoth to win the NLL Cup last season.

The Bandits had posted a 14-4 regular season record in 2022-23 that earned them the league's top seed entering the playoffs. The 2023-24 season played out very differently as the Bandits dropped to 5-6 with three straight losses to fall to seventh place in the standings in Week 14 while dealing with injuries and new faces in the lineup.

Despite the adversity, the Bandits continued to believe and play as one, posting wins in six of their last seven games of the regular season to clinch the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and earn a home playoff game in Banditland. Buffalo won its single-elimination quarterfinal matchup with Georgia then swept its best-of-three semifinal series against Toronto before securing its second straight NLL championship with a 15-13 victory over the Albany FireWolves in Game 2 of the NLL Finals inside KeyBank Center on Saturday.

Following the game, Bandits coach John Tavares said how the team was able to overcome the adversity this season is what will make this championship so memorable.

"We weren't dominant throughout the year, and we had to just fight to make the playoffs," he said. "It just shows that, you know, it takes a whole team to win a championship and it's never over until it's over. ... It didn't come easy for us. We had to work for it."

The Bandits returned to Buffalo early Saturday morning after defeating the FireWolves by a score of 12-8 on Friday in Game 1 of the Finals in Albany. The group had to rest up and hydrate but came ready to play together as Buffalo had 13 different players find the scoresheet to secure the sixth championship in franchise history.

Josh Byrne led the way with nine points (1+8) and was named the NLL Finals MVP. Chase Fraser, who had a team-high five goals and added two assists, and Dhane Smith (2+5) each recorded seven-point nights. Matt Vinc won the fifth NLL Cup of his career, stopping 36 of 49 shots in the win.

"I mean, if you just look at our roster and what guys are willing to do to win. ... It's the leaders in our locker room that are doing those little things and to see that and have our whole locker room follow suit - it ended up in a pretty special night," MacKay said.

Kyle Buchanan opened the scoring for the Bandits and they never looked back, leading the FireWolves throughout the game despite Albany's numerous attempts to come back.

Smith, Brandon Robinson, and Tehoka Nanticoke also scored in the first quarter to give the Bandits an early 4-1 lead, but Albany responded with goals from Alex Simmons and Sam Firth to keep the game within reach.

The Bandits tallied four straight goals to open up the second quarter, including a pair of goals each from Fraser and Chris Cloutier and a goal by Nanticoke to put Buffalo up by five. The FireWolves, meanwhile, kept at it and outscored the Bandits 4-1 at the end of the second to make it 9-7 at halftime.

After Travis Longboat scored to bring Albany within one to kick off the third, the Bandits put their foot on the gas pedal and tallied five straight goals. Fraser recorded a third-quarter hat trick to give the Bandits a 14-8 lead with one quarter to go.

Firth, who led Albany with five goals and two assists in the loss, continued to play aggressive, helping the FireWolves ignite a 5-1, fourth-quarter run but the Bandits held on for the victory in Banditland.

"These are moments that you dream of as a kid," Byrne said. "It was one of those things where it feels speechless. Because it's so hard to really just like put into words what it feels like. But I mean, I think if you take a camera and you pan around Banditland, you can get a pretty good idea.

"... You step on the floor and you feel that energy, you feel that roar. And it's like you're fresh and nothing happened last night. You're just ready to go."

The Bandits will host a championship celebration on Sunday, May 19 in Alumni Plaza, beginning at 12 p.m. The event, which is free and open to all fans, will begin with an Orange and Black Carpet walk before the team gathers on stage to salute Banditland and thank fans for their support throughout the 2023-24 season.

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