BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — One more win brings the NLL Cup to Banditland.
Buffalo opened the National Lacrosse League finals with a 13-12 victory over the reigning champion Colorado Mammoth in front of a crowed of 14,260 on Saturday night at KeyBank Center.
The Bandits can close out the best-of-three series Monday in Denver to claim the club’s fifth championship, and first in 15 years. This is the 12th league finals appearance in franchise history, and fourth in the past six postseasons since 2016.
After winning its three East playoff games by an average of 10 goals, the Bandits expected a close contest with Colorado in a rematch of last year’s championship series.
“I’m not surprised it was a one-goal game,” coach John Tavares said as the Bandits improved to 7-1 this season in games decided by a single score. “I think all the games are going to be one-goal decided. So every play matters. Every possession matters.”
Buffalo star Dhane Smith scored five goals and tallied an assist in Game 1 to lead an attack that was missing top scorer Josh Byrne, who was placed on injured reserve earlier on Saturday. Byrne could be activated to play in Monday’s game, but Tavares was unsure whether Byrne will be healthy enough to travel to the game.
“If he’s not ready, we’re not going to push him,” Tavares said.
The Bandits won three games in midseason when Byrne was hurt. They also coped with injury absences of Tehoka Nanticoke and Chase Fraser, developing confidence in their depth of scring.
“We are next man up, through and through our entire team,” Nanticoke said. “I think we proved that all year.”
Nanticoke scored each of his three goals early in the third quarter, as Buffalo turned an 8-7 halftime deficit into a 12-9 lead. Nanticoke also had two assists for a five-point night.
Fraser also netted a hat trick for the Bandits, Ian MacKay had a goal and six assists, and Kyle Buchanan also assisted on six goals.
Buffalo won the opening game of last year’s NLL finals before dropping the next to matchups with the Mammoth.
“We’re not satisfied,” Smith said. “We know what happened last year. And we’re ready for the challenge.”
If Colorado wins in Game 2, the deciding game will be played Saturday night in Buffalo.
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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.