BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Paint the town orange. Banditland is basking in championship glory.
The Bandits won the NLL Cup on Saturday night with a 13-4 victory against the Colorado Mammoth in the decisive third game of the National League League championship series in front of a near capacity crowd of 18,296 at KeyBank Center.
It is the fifth title in Buffalo’s indoor lacrosse franchise history, and first since 2008. The Bandits had lost in three previous trips to the NLL Finals since 2016, including last season, when the Mammoth won the championship in Buffalo.
“We finally did it,” said Dhane Smith, Buffalo’s assistant captain in his 12th professional season who received the NLL Finals MVP award after tallying nine goals and 14 assists in the three game series. “It’s a dream come true. A weight off my shoulders, a weight off all of our shoulders. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I think that was our most complete game of the year.”
Josh Byrne had four goals and three assists to lead the Bandits in his return from missing the first two Finals games with an upper-body injury. Byrne finished with 14 goals and 33 points in four postseason games.
“One of the biggest emotional rollercoasters of my life,” Bryne said. “The universe has a funny way of working, and fortunately we were able to get to Game 3. And now we are champs you couldn’t have wrote it any better.”
Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc stopped 46 of 50 shots he face for a sterling .920 save percentage. The Canisius College graduate set an NLL Finals record in allowing only four goals to claim his fourth championship, but first in Buffalo.
“Any time you can win it’s special,” Vinc said. “But since that first time I decided to come to Buffalo, this is what I wanted.”
Vinc noted how Bandits coach John Tavares, a Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played on each of Buffalo’s first four championship teams (1992, 1993, 1996, 2008) has pointed at the banners hanging in the downtown arena for inspiration.
“I remember a lot of those cool memories, those banners going up,” said Vinc, the 40-year-old who grew up just across the border in St. Catharines, Ontario.
“JT has talked about how it’s been lonely,” Vinc said. “It’s been a long time for Banditland to experience a championship. Being a part of the group that puts another banner up there, it gives you chills just talking about.”
Most everyone in Banditland lingered long after the final horn to watch the on-field celebration and presentation of the NLL Cup.
“That was one of the nice things about losing,” Game 2, “in Colorado,” Tavares said. “We got to celebrate with our fans. Obviously, we have the most loyal and passionate fans in the league. And that was evident tonight.”
This was the first title for Tavares in his four seasons as the Bandits’ coach.
“It’s 100% more stressful being a coach than a player,” Tavares said. “You feel a lot more responsible for the overall team performance. It’s my latest one, so it’s my best one at the moment.”
Tavares said the Bandits players who won their first professional championship together will be forever bonded by the experience.
“They are going to remember that forever,” Tavares said. “I played for a long time. We won four championships. The championship teams I remember more than the other teams. That group will forever be together as 2023 National Lacrosse League champions, and that’s the bond they will share forever.”
The Bandits will hold a public championship celebration at 5 p.m. June 15 at Alumni Plaza outside KeyBank Center.
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.