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Buffalo wins Game 2 15-13 to clinch Back-to-Back Titles; Byrne is Finals MVP

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FireWolves and Bandits Sweep Semifinals Series

Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion 

During the first three quarters of Game 2 between the Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits on Sunday evening, it looked to all the world that the squad with a league-best 15-3 regular season record was getting set to head back to Hamilton for a decisive Game 3. But that all changed in the fourth when the defending champion Bandits scored six straight goals, flipping an 8-4 deficit into an incomprehensible 10-8 series clinching celebration, in front of more than 16,000 boisterous Buffalo patrons. 

Here are those six game-changing goals:

Chase Fraser was responsible for three of the aforementioned scores, including both the game-tying and go-ahead detonations. For the Vancouver native, a postseason meeting with the Rock is far more than a simple lacrosse game.

“You don’t quit, especially with the rivalry between us. We’re in a war, it’s war out there and we ended up on the victorious end,” touted the hard-charging forward. 

Fraser finished his evening with a hat trick, while teammates Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith collaborated on four scores and nine helpers. Two of Byrne’s exploits occurred during the six-goal, final-stanza extravaganza.

As for the “Great Dhane,” it was all about building off the successes of the first game, while avoiding discouragement when falling into such a deep Game 2 hole.

“Going into this game I knew I needed to work hard to get the ball, get my teammates open and be more aggressive,” explained the two-time NLL MVP. “As a leader I try to stay as positive as possible, and I tell the guys we can only control what we can control offensively. We needed to stay out of the box, cut off reverse transition and play our game. We were able to do that and went on a run.”

BUFFALO, NY – May 5th 2024: NLL Semifinal between the Toronto Rock and the Buffalo Bandits. (Photo by Mike Hetzel/NLL)

The iconic number 92 also shared, “once we got to 8-6 the crowd was unbelievable. It gave me goosebumps. It’s the weirdest shift of events I have ever been a part of. Every goal was bang-bang-bang and it honestly felt like a movie.” 

The Bandits have now won eight consecutive postseason matchups with the Rock, amid reaching the NLL Finals for the fourth consecutive time. Simply stated, on and off the field, Buffalo is the current gold standard of the NLL, led at the top by the living legend John Tavares.

“It shows how diverse we are. Great teams find different ways to win. We can win with goaltending and defense, and we can win a high scoring one. Not that it was a high-scoring game, but when we needed, it the offense showed up in the fourth quarter,” illuminated the Buffalo coach.

The Rock played a strong game through the first 46:32, guided to that point by Mark Matthews’ two goals and three assists, along with Corey Small, who added two goals and one assist to the scoresheet. 

While Buffalo moves on to an Empire State battle with the Albany FireWolves, the Rock go into the offseason with one overarching thought in mind. How in the world do they get past the Bandits when everything is on the line?

 

The Fairytale FireWolves Sweep the Star-Laden Seals

Last season, the Albany FireWolves finished at the very bottom of the NLL standings. A mere one year later, New York’s capital region team, the youngest in the National Lacrosse League, is headed to the NLL Finals in the wake of a 13-10 home triumph over the San Diego Seals and capturing their Semifinals matchup with San Diego 2-0. 

Nobody is more surprised about this unexpected turn of events than FireWolves head coach Glenn Clark. 

“It creeps up on you to be honest. You’re busy doing what you do and getting better every game, coaching and planning, then wham, you’re here!” exclaimed Clark. “It’s unbelievable and quite a story. We thought we’d be improved, but in our wildest dreams we did not think we’d get to the NLL Finals.”

Rookie phenom Alex Simmons continues to manufacture numbers at an absolutely ridiculous level, finishing the series clincher with three goals and four assists, keeping up a torrid postseason pace that gave him eight goals and nine assists in just two games.

Check out his performance:

At just 24 years old, the Ontario native has absolutely taken box lacrosse by storm.

“It’s really fun,” said Simmons. “That’s why you play the game and go into the basement as a kid and shoot the ball 100 or 200 times a day. This is the kind of stuff you live for. You don’t want the moment to be too big and it wasn’t. This is the kind of stuff we’ve been waiting for our entire careers.” 

As is often the case, Simmons was joined in the productivity department by running buddies Tye Kurtz and Ethan Walker, who combined for five goals and a highly-unselfish 10 assists. Travis Longboat also joined the FireWolves’ fiesta, lighting the lamp on three impressive occasions, two of which occurred in the third quarter, shortly after the Seals successfully tied the game 6-6.

As has been the case in each of Albany’s 2024 postseason outings, team captain Colton Watkinson connected on an empty net goal, cementing his club’s miraculous run to the finals.

The Seals were led by a four-goal outburst from Austin Staats, with the trifecta of Curtis Dickson, Tre Leclaire and Dane Dobbie totalling six goals and eight helpers. Dobbie’s two blasts moved him to number one all-time in playoff goals, surpassing the great John Tavares. The normally high-scoring talent known as Wesley Berg was held goalless on this day, though he did assist on three of San Diego’s 10 tallies. 

The Seals, who lay claim to the oldest roster in the league, return to the drawing board with the goal of coming back next season in prime position to continue their stretch of regular season excellence, with the more far-reaching ambition of progressing to an NLL Finals round that has so alluded them thus far.

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