When it comes to professional sports championships, the city of Buffalo just doesn’t have a very extensive resume.
The Buffalo Bills of the NFL went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990’s but lost all four.
The Buffalo Sabres of the NHL went to the Stanley Cup Final twice in their history but lost on both occasions.
The Buffalo Braves of the NBA never made it to the NBA Finals before the franchise moved to San Diego to become the Clippers.
And then we have the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League, the professional sports franchise that has given lacrosse fans in the city, Erie County and Western New York (well, except in Rochester) the opportunity to celebrate championships.
But there’s been a drought in that department too.
The Bandits have won the MILL/NLL championship in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008.
Fifteen years later, they’ve got a great chance to finally get number five as they will be the number one overall seed heading into this year’s NLL playoffs.
“I think it would mean the world to all of us,” said Bandits forward and Buffalo area native Connor Fields.
“Being from Buffalo, I’m very familiar with the Buffalo fans. I am one. Just knowing how great these fans are. I think they’re the best fans in the world. You can see how supportive they are with us, the Bills and the Sabres. Winning or losing, they always have the team’s backs.”
The Bandits head into their regular season finale Saturday night against Toronto at Keybank Center (7:30pm ET ESPN+/TSN.ca) with a record of 14-3 and they have already clinched the 12th division title in franchise history along with the number one overall seed giving them home floor advantage throughout the playoffs.
For Fields, being on his hometown team, the very team that he rooted for as a kid and cheered for from the stands in “Banditland”, this has been one magical season.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Fields. “It’s been a lot of fun. I think it’s a really talented team. It’s so fun to play around guys of this skill level and they make everyone around them better. I’ve found myself open a couple of times when I’m not even expecting it.”
Fields is the third leading scorer on the Bandits with 67 points thanks to 32 goals and 35 assists. Acquired from San Diego in an off-season trade, Fields is having a season to remember in Buffalo, something that the East Amherst, New York native always felt was possible once he turned pro a few years ago.
He just needed to stay healthy and an opportunity showcase his skills.
“I’m a very confident player,” said Fields. “Inside, you have to think you’re able to have a good season. I just had to put in the time and effort obviously in the off-season as well as when I got here too. Just getting the chemistry going with the guys and just fitting in any way I could.”
The 26-year-old Fields is finishing up his first full NLL season. His rookie season was 2019-20, but he was limited to the final two games of the COVID-19 shortened season because of his recovery from an ACL injury. The pandemic wiped out the entire 2020-21 season and then came the trade from San Diego to Buffalo.
Everything that he has experienced has prepared him for this moment, the chance to help the Bandits win a championship.
“In those couple of games that I played with San Diego, I felt like each game I was playing more confident and I was getting better and I was hoping that trend continued in Buffalo,” said Fields.
And it has.
What has also been important to Fields is his relationship with Epoch Lacrosse. Every professional lacrosse player dreams of being able to have a strong partnership with a lacrosse equipment/apparel company and Fields has certainly found a home with Epoch.
“Epoch is tremendous,” said Fields. “I can’t say enough good things about them. I’m very vocal with how great their sticks and equipment are. I think it’s top of the line for sure.”
For Fields, having that relationship with Epoch goes beyond just using their sticks, heads and other equipment. It’s about the relationships with the staff and that starts with Epoch CEO, James Miceli, and includes each and every person who works at the company.
“I have a great relationship with (James),” said Fields. “He is super supportive. “I feel very lucky to be a part of the Epoch family. They are top-notch people and obviously they are a top-notch company.”
Fields is more than happy to spread the word about Epoch, especially when it comes to singing the praises of the equipment. There are many times before, during and after games when young players and fans come up to Fields and ask him about the equipment that he uses. Generally, the questions have to do about his stick setup and what type of shaft and head that he’s using.
His message back to the kids is simple.
“It’s the best gear out there,” said Fields. “That’s the message I spread and share which ones I use. The Z-ONE head and the Dragonfly shafts. If they ask, I will definitely let them know.”
Fields loves talking to the kids in Buffalo because it really wasn’t that long ago when he was one of those very kids in the stands asking the very same questions to Bandits players like John Tavares who is now his head coach.
A decade later, Fields is paying it back to a new generation of Bandits fans that are clamoring for a championship.
“When I talk with them, I think of myself ten years ago just being in their shoes and I try to be the player that I grew up idolizing and the players that when I was young interacted with me,” said Fields.
Fields and the Bandits are a confident group heading into the playoffs but they still have some regular season work to do Saturday against the Rock in Banditland. And then as soon as the game is over, the focus shifts to a new season as the playoffs will begin next week. They are the number one seed with home field advantage, but Fields and the Bandits aren’t about to take anything for granted.
Because in the playoffs, anything can happen, especially in a one game elimination in the Quarterfinals.
“You can be number one and anyone can beat anyone any given day,” said Fields. “We realize that going into this final week and preparing for the playoffs. We want to make sure that we get into the right rhythm coming into the playoffs.”
And the Bandits have one goal in mind when the playoffs begin…that is to finally bring another professional sports championship to Buffalo.
The Bills have become one of the best teams in the NFL giving the city Super Bowl expectations, but the moment belongs to the Bandits and the chance they have to win it all for the first time in a long time.
“For us to be able to bring back a championship, it would be a dream come true and I think the fans would go crazy to say the least,” said Fields.
For Connor Fields, the Bandits and the fans, it would be an Epoch celebration.