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

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National Lacrosse League: Ten Things to Know for NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time

Defending Champion Buffalo Bandits Look to Become First Team to Repeat Since 2016; FireWolves Try for First Championship in Albany

Fifteen teams began the 2023-24 National Lacrosse League (@NLL) season in December, and after a full slate of regular season contests and two rounds of playoffs, the NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time are upon us. The matchup between the defending champion Buffalo Bandits and upstart Albany FireWolves is not just a battle for New York State supremacy, but one full of intriguing storylines and superstar players.

The No. 3 FireWolves and No. 4 Bandits dispatched the top two seeded teams, sweeping their respective series to give both squads a week of rest heading into the best-of-three, beginning Friday at Albany’s MVP Arena (7 p.m. ET, TSN, TSN+, ESPN+, CW23) and continuing Saturday at KeyBank Center (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, TSN+, ESPN+, CW23).

Here are 10 things to know about the NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time:

  • Back to Back Bandits?: Defending champion Buffalo took out No. 1 seed Toronto and Albany swept past No. 2 San Diego, both teams winning road contests then clinching on their respective home floors. The Bandits, playing in their fourth straight Finals, will be trying to become the first team to repeat since the Edmonton/Saskatchewan Rush turned the trick in 2015 and 2016. In all, seven teams have gone back-to-back:

    • Philadelphia (1989-90 & 1994-95)

    • Buffalo (1992-93)

    • Toronto (1999-2000 & 2002-03)

    • Rochester (2012-14)

    • Edmonton/Saskatchewan (2015-16)

  • FireWolves For First: On the opposite end of the standings in 2022-23 were the Albany FireWolves, whose 3-15 record ranked last. Albany fashioned an astounding turnaround led by NLL Coach of the Year and NLL General Manager of the Year Glenn Clark and an exciting roster that is the youngest in the league, with two Rookie of the Year finalists in forwards Tye Kurtz (Puslinch, Ont.) and Alex Simmons (Hamilton, Ont.). Should Albany take the title, it would become only the second NLL team to go from “worst to first,” joining the 1991 Detroit Turbos, who topped the Baltimore Thunder, 14-12, after finishing 1-7 in 1990.

  • Low Bridge, Everybody Down…: Almost 300 miles of mostly Interstate 90 (and, once upon a time, the Erie Canal) separate MVP Arena from KeyBank Center, home floors of the two combatants this weekend. Although it’s been more than 20 years since two Empire State teams vied for a major professional championship (MLB’s Yankees and Mets in 2000), there is some more recent N.Y. lacrosse precedent as Syracuse defeated Cornell (Ithaca) for the 2009 NCAA Division I men’s title. Current Halifax forward Cody Jamieson (Six Nations, Ont.) had two goals and one assist (including the game-winner in OT) and New York Riptide forward Stephen Keogh (Toronto) added two markers for Syracuse in that contest.

  • Defense Wins Championships: NLL.com’s Cooper Perkins makes a case for the Bandits defense as an underrated unit, given the deserved attention that two of the League’s three MVP Finalists, Dhane Smith (Kitchener, Ont.) and Josh Byrne (New Westminster, B.C.), command. In this week’s LAXMetrics Powered by NLL, Perkins details some of the numbers behind the Buffalo less heralded back wall.

  • Lacrosse’s Heritage Continues in Finals: Five members of the Six Nations community will suit up for an NLL Finals team this weekend, for the right to hoist the Indigenous-designed NLL Cup. NLL.com has in-depth pieces on both, with Jon Rapoport detailing the player side in this well-researched item and Anna Taylor sitting down with Ojibwe metal worker and artist Kathryn Corbiere to discuss her creation.

  • TV Time: Game 3 of the NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time, if necessary, moved to Saturday, May 25, at MVP Arena, beginning at 5 p.m., following the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse semifinals on ESPN2. CW23 in Buffalo will also carry Games 1 and 2 over the air. The team of Jon Abbott, Pat Gregoire, and Brianne Foley will have the call for all three contests.

  • Awards Abound: NLL Finals week is also Awards week at the NLL, with numerous winners announced to date. Tomorrow are the major awards, with All-Rookie Team, First and Second Team All-NLL, Rookie of the Year and MVP on the docket.

  • Albany Redux… Two Decades later: This marks the Albany FireWolves’ first appearance in the NLL Finals, but it’s not the first time a team from the Capital Region made it this far. The Albany Attack advanced to the Finals in 2002, falling to the Toronto Rock, 13-12. The franchise later moved to Washington, where it appeared in the finals three times, winning as the Stealth in 2010.

  • Finals Notables: A few other fun facts about the Bandits-FireWolves matchup:

    • It’s the second time ever we have had two teams from same state/province in Finals (1997 NLL Finals when Rochester def. Buffalo, 15-12)

    • This will mark only third time the NLL will go three years without a Canadian champion (Knighthawks three straight titles in 2012-14 and Mammoth, Knighthawks and Bandits from 2006-08). Note that the league first expanded into Canada in 1998, before which, of course, every Finals was All-American (1987-97)

    • It’s also the second time the NLL Finals will feature both teams based in the U.S. for three straight years (2006-2008 was the previous time this happened), since 1997

    • The Bandits will be appearing in their 13th Finals, with a 5-7 mark in the previous series and 7-11 record (best-of-three format began in 2014)

  • Albany Cider vs. Buffalo IPA: Since New York Governor Kathy Hochul can’t take sides, County Executives from the competing teams stepped up for the “friendly bet” hinging on the series results. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy put up a case of Nine Pin Cider against Erie County’s Byron Brown’s ante of Buffalo’s Hayburner IPA.

  • Smith Moves Up Playoff Leaderboards: Dhane Smith’s three goals in the playoffs give him 59 in his career, tying him with Dan Dawson (Oakville, Ont.) for seventh all-time. He’s just one behind John Grant and two back of Colin Doyle for fifth place. And with six assists, Smith would pass John Tavares (116) for first in playoff history. Josh Byrne is also nearing a milestone, needing two points to reach 100 in his playoff career.

Schedule – NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time (All Times Eastern)

(4) Buffalo Bandits vs. (3) Albany FireWolves

  • Game 1 – Buffalo at Albany, Friday, May 17, 7 p.m. ET, MVP Arena, Albany, N.Y., TSN, TSN+, ESPN+, CW23 (Jon Abbott, Pat Gregoire, Brianne Foley)
  • Game 2 – Albany at Buffalo, Saturday, May 18, 7:30 p.m. ET, KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y., TSN, TSN+, ESPN+, CW23 (Jon Abbott, Pat Gregoire, Brianne Foley)
  • *Game 3 – Buffalo at Albany, Saturday, May 25, 5 p.m. ET, MVP Arena, Albany, N.Y., ESPN2, ESPN+, TSN, TSN+ (Jon Abbott, Pat Gregoire, Brianne Foley)

*if necessary