BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The most accomplished box lacrosse goaltender in history feels for Buffalo sports fans. Because he is one of them.
Growing up across the Canada border in St. Catharines, Ontario, Matt Vinc was captivated by the Bills during the team’s 1990s Super Bowl runs, along with an upstart Bandits franchise that won three North American Cups in that era.
“That was a big part of my life watching those special teams and those playoff runs,” said the 40-year-old Vinc, now in his 18th professional season, and fourth starting in goal for the Bandits, who open the East Conference finals of the National Lacrosse League playoffs at home Friday night against the Toronto Rock.
Vinc embedded himself deeper into the Buffalo landscape during his four years at Canisius College. Stepping out of the net and his comfort zone to play long pole defense in field lacrosse, Vinc was named the Golden Griffins’ Male Athlete of the Year in 2006. Vinc regularly attended Bandits games during that time when some of his club teammates from St. Catharines were on the Buffalo roster.
“Seeing the way the City of Buffalo comes together around its sports teams, it’s an electric atmosphere,” he said.
Nicknamed “Vino” by teammates and fans, the NLL’s all-time leader in goalie minutes (14,739), saves (9,788) and wins (147) — “the greatest to ever do it,” said reigning league MVP and Bandits teammate Dhane Smith — Vinc is the reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year, an award he’s received eight times in 12 seasons.
Vinc also holds all of the playoff records for NLL goalies, and won three Champions Cups playing for the Rochester Knighthawks. Still he longs for a championship celebration in Buffalo. The Bandits last won a title in 2008, the year Vinc made his playoff debut with the New York Titans. They have lost in the finals three of the past five seasons, twice with Vinc in net.
“We want to be the team that breaks through and gives the city something to celebrate,” Vinc said. “And hopefully the Bills and Sabres bring more titles to Buffalo after that.”
Winning a championship for Buffalo would hold special significance for Vinc. Just as becoming the Bandits’ all-time leader in wins was a source of pride even though Vinc already had all of the league records in his name.
“It’s extra special because I grew up so close to Buffalo and grew up a fan,” Vinc said after matching his jersey number in his 48th victory for the Bandits.
Vinc was in the arena for many of the games won by the previous team record-holder, NLL Hall of Famer and current Buffalo general manager Steve Dietrich.
“Because of the success of the franchise,” Vinc said, “it’s a special moment, not only for myself, but also a cumulative for how good we’ve been the last four years.”
Vinc is playing as well as ever at age 40. He led the league in wins (14) and saves (742), ranking second among regular starters with an 80% stop rate and fourth in goals-against average (10.42). He stopped 44 of 51 shots (86%) in Buffalo’s quarterfinal win against Rochester.
That was the Vinc’s 40th playoff appearance, the most by any NLL player at any position in history. Bandits coach John Tavares is second all-time with 38 playoff games. Tavares played until he was 45, and believes Vinc could extend his career even longer.
“The way he takes care of his body, he’s the fittest guy in the league probably,” Tavares said. “I think he’s got a lot more years in him. He should play a lot longer than me, because he’s in better shape than I was, and he’s a goalie. He doesn’t have to run as much. He can probably play another 10 years.”
Vinc credits his physical education study at Canisius with helping him stay fit into his 40s. He’s a full-time teacher at Denis Morris Catholic High School in St. Catharines, where he also coaches lacrosse and ice hockey.
“My daily job is focused on fitness, and I think that’s allowed me to take care of my body in different ways in order to keep playing,” Vinc said.
Vinc, a hockey goalie in his youth, was inspired by Craig Anderson’s longevity in the NHL, starting for the Sabres at age 41 this past season.
“It gives you goosebumps watching his final game,” Vinc said. “You applaud people who are able to do that at a high level for a long time. Especially in the hockey world, playing 82 games. It’s a lot different demands on the body. But it gives you motivation and reassurance that other people are doing it and you are able to keep doing that at a high level.”
Vinc also relies on his anticipation and communication with defenseman, skills honed while playing out of the net in college and with Team Canada.
“You gain a different perspective of where offensive players take their shots from, and all of that knowledge from playing out on defense can than be applied to being a goalie,” said Randy Mearns, the coach who put a long stick in Vinc’s hands back at Canisius.
“Matty Vinc is one of the best, if not the best communicators to his defense,” added Mearns, a former Bandit who now commentates for the club’s television broadcasts and coaches at St. Bonaventure.
“We brought him in to be a goaltender,” Mearns continued. “But we had another good goalie, and Matty was such a great athlete we thought he could pick up a long pole and be a close D for us. ‘Whatever you need me to do,’ he said. It shows you his team attitude.”
“I’ve gotten to know Matty well, and it’s been amazing to follow his journey,” said Mearns, a St. Catharines native like Vinc. “From back home, to Canisius, getting drafted (by San Jose), he ends up in Rochester for a number of years, and now it’s exciting to see him come to Banditland, and still be able to live that lacrosse dream so many years later.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.