The Buffalo Bandits (10-7) will have one final tuneup before the playoffs when the team returns home to take on the New England Black Wolves (4-13) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game is available on UniversalSports.com (laptop/desktop) & USN app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
Buffalo is coming off two convincing wins in Week 17 with a 17-9 win over the Vancouver Stealth and a 20-9 win over the Black Wolves. As the Bandits head into the playoffs as the three seed in the East, they will look to build on their current three game winning streak on Saturday. Even though another win does nothing to change the standings, Buffalo’s coaching staff and roster realizes how important this final tune-up game is.
“The fact that we got to clinch against Vancouver at home was a big deal for us. You like to be able to control your own destiny and be able to take care of business at home,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We owe the fans that have been there every game another really good effort, because we’re not going to be coming home [for the playoffs] barring some things in the standings out West.”
After Toronto clinched the East Division on Friday night, Buffalo will travel to Rochester for the East Division Semifinal on Friday, May 8 at 7 p.m. ET, and should the Bandits advance in the single-elimination setup, would play at home against the Rock for the first game of the East Division Finals.
Buffalo is viewing this last regular season game as a last chance to run their systems, dictate play for a full 60 minutes and fire on all cylinders.
“The goal for this weekend is sticking to the systems and ultimately making them work. You want to be sharp on the power play and good on the man down. On defense we want to pack it in and keep the shooters from getting the shots that they want,” said Bandits defenseman Billy Dee Smith. “You want to treat every game like a playoff game when you’re this close. You want to be focused and play to the best of your abilities, so come next week, it’s second nature.”
Buffalo’s offense had an outstanding Week 17 and will want to keep up the hot shooting going forward. Mark Steenhuis (12+8) piled up 20 points over the two game weekend while Ryan Benesch (8+9) and Dhane Smith (3+13) both tallied huge numbers as well. Dhane Smith won the Pinty’s Wingman of the Week award for Week 17 with his strong performance. Now it’s about keeping the ball rolling for the offensive unit.
“We want to carry the momentum toward the playoffs and go in riding high,” said Bandits forward Ryan Benesch. “Our offense has been great of late, our defense and Coz [Anthony Cosmo] have been even better.”
Saturday night is Fan Appreciation night in “Banditland” highlighted by special ticket prices, giveaways and a guaranteed $10,000 prize in the 50/50 drawing.
The game marks the fourth time these teams have faced off this season, with the Black Wolves leading the season series, 2-1. The Bandits beat the Black Wolves 20-9 during their last matchup, and despite being eliminated from the playoff race, the pack looks for a strong effort to close out the year.
“To finish up strong is definitely on our table for this weekend,” stated Black Wolves assistant general manager Rich Lisk. “We believe the team we’ve put together, even though we had some stumbling blocks this year, is built for the future.”
“Like Rich said, it’s a process and we built our core and we’ve just got to keep going,” added Black Wolves forward Kyle Buchanan. “End our season on a high note and keep that rolling moving forward.”
The Black Wolves took the first game of the series from the Bandits 12-8 on the first day of the 2015 season. The rematch did not come until three months later in Week 14. Though the Bandits fought hard throughout the game, the Black Wolves had a timely goal in the last minute of play that gave them the 12-11 victory.
Flash forward to this past Sunday’s game between the East Division rivals. It was clear from the start that the Bandits were in the driver’s seat, but the Black Wolves matched them goal for goal until late in the second quarter, when Buffalo took a 12-8 lead. Unfortunately for the pack, the Bandits were firing on all cylinders in the second half, allowing the Black Wolves to score only one goal while they scored 12.
The Black Wolves fought hard in a 10-7 home loss to the Toronto Rock on Friday night, who clinched the East Division with the win and set the table for the Buffalo vs. Rochester first-round playoff matchup.
Though there are no ramifications for the Black Wolves win or lose, just the chance to end the season in front of a great group of fans, both at Mohegan Sun Arena and in Buffalo, is good enough for them. There is a lot of work to be done during the offseason when it comes to building a stronger pack, but for right now, the focus is on finishing up with a strong doubleheader weekend.
“We talked about that a little bit last weekend, just the opportunities that we have to play in the league,” added Black Wolves forward Kyle Buchanan. “We go in front of our home crowd for our last home game, and 15,000 screaming in Banditland. It’s a cool way to end our season, although it didn’t go as planned.”
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) and Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.