It all comes down to this.
On Saturday, June 18th, a new NLL champion will be crowned. What we don’t know is who will be lifting the NLL Cup and be named the 2022 NLL Cup winners. Will it be the Colorado Mammoth who are searching for their second NLL championship since relocating to Denver in 2002, or the Buffalo Bandits who are seeking their fifth NLL title?
Going into the seventh week of the NLL Playoffs following a 22-week (18-game) regular season, the Bandits and Mammoth have each played many of their cards, but if their NLL Finals appearance has proven one thing, it’s that both teams still have much to offer.
Mammoth Captain Robert Hope noted that the adjustments his team made after Game 1 and even after the second half of Game 2 were critical to the team’s success. Hope also pointed out that regardless of the team’s ability to force a winner-take-all Game 3, more adjustments must be made to win the championship.
“We made some adjustments, and that was able to help us on the back-end,” Hope said. “I thought that we made [the Bandits] went on a couple of runs that we can still get a little better with, but Dillon [Ward] was there to save us when we needed him.”
The Mammoth have found numerous ways to win this postseason despite major injuries to key players such as Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin. Their ability to roll with the punches proves that reshaping a gameplan can still lead to a victory.
Bandits Captain Steve Priolo echoed many of the same thoughts regarding his club, stating that the Bandits’ 14-4 regular season record and a spot in the NLL Finals does not mean that changes can’t be made this late into the season.
“We’ve had a good season,” Priolo said. “The things that we’ve been doing and preparing through the weeks have been working, and I think we need to trust that. At the same time, it’s never too late to learn from your game film. If we look back at our previous two games that we played them, we’re thinking, ‘where can we get an edge, and what can we figure out,’”
Over the last 10 years, the Bandits have found ways to be one of the most prolific teams in the league; only the Saskatchewan Rush and the Rochester Knighthawks have made more NLL Finals appearances in that span. Yet, they are the only one of those abovementioned teams not to win an NLL championship in the last decade.
Priolo continued to stress that any changes that can still be made could be the deciding factor that differentiates this year’s Bandits squad from previous years, where they failed to lift the NLL Cup.
“We can’t let our team down again – it needs to just happen…,” Priolo said. “…How are we going to separate ourselves from all the times that we failed? What can we do to separate this team from our teams in 2016 and 2019?”
The Bandits and the Mammoth have had very different journeys to get them to this one game with everything on the line, and unfortunately, there will have to be a winner and a loser. Based on the first two games of this series, blood, sweat, and tears will be left on that storied floor in Buffalo by the time the winners will eventually be celebrating.
This has been a series between the best of the West and the best of the East. I suspect we will be seeing the newest best version of these two teams on Saturday because that is what it will take to win the NLL Cup.