BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The largest Banditland gathering of the regular season inspired the home team to a victory ensuring the road to the National Lacrosse League championship will once again go through Buffalo.

With an 11-10 comeback win against the visiting Toronto Rock on Saturday, the Bandits clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Saturday in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 16,861 on Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center.

Goalie Matt Vinc, a former Canisius College player, made 44 saves to become the Bandits’ all-time wins leader with 48. Josh Byrne and Chase Fraser each scored three goals as the Bandits rallied from being down two goals to improve to 7-3 when trailing at halftime this season. Dhane Smith tallied seven points (two goals, five assists, raising his league-high total to 126.

This is the 10th time in 31 seasons that Buffalo has won a conference or division title. That includes each of the Bandits’ four championship seasons.

The Bandits begin the postseason with a quarterfinal game May 6 in Buffalo, and would then have home-floor advantage for best-of-three conference final series, potentially in a rematch with the Rock. The Bandits also could still secure home-floor advantage for the NLL finals with a win in next Saturday’s regular season finale at Albany.

Fraser scored twice in a 1:03 span midway through the third quarter to give Buffalo its first lead of the game, 6-5, on the highlight goal of the season. Fraser reached with one hand to collect a rebound and flipped a shot between his legs for the second goal. He added a tying goal early in the fourth quarter.

Byrne’s hat trick gave him 40 goals in a season in which he missed three games with an injury. After a goal by Tehoka Nanticoke gave the Bandits’ a 10-9 lead with 5:53 remaining, Byrne scored 41 seconds later for what would turn out to be the winning goal.

Along with the Fan Appreciation Night celebration, the Bandits honored popular arena announcer Chris Swenson with a pregame video tribute that drew a long ovation and chants of “Swennie” in Banditland. The team also recognized play-by-play broadcaster John Gurtley on the scoreboard for calling his 350th consecutive game.


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.