The Buffalo Bandits showed why they finished as the East’s best team, taking down the New England Black Wolves to take a 1-0 series lead in the East Division Finals with the 15-10 road win on Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Black Wolves controlled the game early in the first quarter, but the Bandits took over and never looked back. The Bandits look to secure their place in the Champion’s Cup Finals as they face the Black Wolves at home for Game 2 on Saturday.
“It was a game of momentum, we were just lucky to finish our opportunities and they didn’t,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s a game of lacrosse. Teams will go on runs and you just want to control the runs and that’s what we did tonight.”
“The message to the team doesn’t really change,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “We still had to go in to Buffalo and win a game, so we’re really not in a different position other than that if we won that second game we wouldn’t have to play the mini-game. We still had to go in there and win and we still have to go in there and win. Identify what we did, learn from it, and move on.”
As expected, the game was extremely physical and the penalty box was rarely vacant. The Black Wolves started the game with three consecutive goals, taking a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter. The pack’s defense kept the Bandits from getting good looks on goal, and numerous penalties gave the Black Wolves a man-up advantage for a good portion of the first quarter. However, that all changed with a five-minute major on Black Wolves defender Derek Suddons for high-sticking. From there, the Bandits offense woke up and scored five consecutive goals, finishing the first quarter with a 5-3 lead.
“We talked about it in the pregame, take a hit, give a hit, get yourself into it,” Cordingley said. “We’ve been off for 16-17 days. I thought they controlled the game for the first 7-8 minutes. They were all over us.”
“Yeah, he had to call it,” Clark stated. “He came up and hit him in the head, he had to call it.”
The second quarter started just like the first quarter, with the Black Wolves finding the back of the net and cutting the Bandits lead to one. The Bandits answered with three consecutive goals to take an 8-4 lead, but a five-minute major on Alex Kedoh Hill for illegal cross-checking gave the Black Wolves a man-up advantage again. The pack could not take advantage of the power-play, and multiple penalties on assistant captain Brett Manney kept the Black Wolves from getting any real momentum. Though the Black Wolves were able to net one more goal, the Bandits held an 8-5 lead at halftime.
“’Cozzy’ [Cosmo] made some good saves and they hit a couple of bars which was unlucky for them,” Cordingley said. “I thought we controlled the rest of the way in the first half.”
“There were a couple of those blips along the way that hurt us,” Clark added. “We had 7 or 8 posts in that first half too. That’s the game sometimes; those drop and it’s a whole different game. We’re not chasing it as much and that happens. We had a little bit of bad luck at times, but the beauty is it’s not a one-and-done. We’re still in the fight.”
The Bandits came out of the locker room determined, scoring three consecutive goals to take a commanding 11-5 lead early in the third quarter. The Black Wolves offense took advantage of a Bandit penalty and found the back of the net on the power-play. Trailing the Bandits 11-6, the Black Wolves defense buckled down and back-up goalkeeper Tye Belanger made some spectacular saves after coming in for starter Evan Kirk. While the Bandits seemed to settle a bit, the Black Wolves fed off the energy from the fans and scored two more quick goals to pull within three goals. The Bandits offense seemed to be on their heels at the end of the third quarter, but Buffalo held an 11-8 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We needed a change,” Clark noted. “He [Kirk] let a couple in that were uncharacteristic for him, so we needed a little bounce in our step and Tye gave that to us early.”
“We were just a little too far behind at that time,” said Black Wolves assistant captain Kyle Buchanan. “A couple of guys made some big plays; it just wasn’t our night. We’re going to put it behind us and move forward.”
The defenses took over in the fourth quarter, with neither team finding the back of the net until just over six minutes in. The Bandits took a 12-8 lead, but the Black Wolves answered immediately to pull within three goals again. However, the Bandits hit the gas pedal again and quickly scored two consecutive goals to take a 14-9 lead. The tensions came to a head as Shawn Evans sucker-punched Bandits transition Andrew Watt and defender Mitch De Snoo threw Evans to the ground; all three players ended up in the box. Things only progressed from there as the pushing and shoving took over for lacrosse.
“You’re playing for the championship,” Evans stated. “The team that wins goes to the championship, so both teams are putting everything on the line.”
For the Bandits, defense was key and the goalkeeping was fantastic. Goalkeeper Anthony Cosmo made 45 saves on 55 shots faced. Offensively, Dhane Smith led the way with five goals and two assists, while Ryan Benesch collected three goals and six assists. Alex Kedoh Hill added four goals.
“Kedoh this morning in shoot-around was picking corners,” Cordingley stated. “You just knew his stick was on. He was shooting confident.”
Defensively, the Black Wolves kept the Bandits at bay for a bit. Starting goalkeeper Evan Kirk made 24 saves on 34 shots faced, while Tye Belanger made 13 saves on 17 shots faced in relief. Kyle Buchanan led the offense with three goals and two assists, while Pat Saunders collected three goals and one assist.
“I don’t know if there’s an advantage in this league,” Cordingley said. “We’re going to take it. We know we have a long way to go here and this is an extremely talented team and we know we have our work cut out for us.”
“We had some uncharacteristic mistakes that hurt us,” Clark stated. “You learn from it, you move on, and the motto is still the same. We had to go there and win; we still have to go there and win. If you want to be a next level team, you’ve got to earn it.”
“They’re a dangerous team,” Clark added. “They’re the number one team in the league for a reason. We’ve got to find a way to beat them.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Alex Kedoh Hill
3) Ryan Benesch
By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.