The Buffalo Bandits (15-6) hosted the Saskatchewan Rush (16-5) in Game 1 of the Champion’s Cup Finals at First Niagara Center in front of 12,692 fans on Saturday night. The Rush used a three-goal run to take an 11-9 lead in the fourth quarter to win the first game of the three-game series and steal home field advantage from the Bandits.
Both Anthony Cosmo and Aaron Bold shut the door for the first 7:51 of the game. The scoreless stretch ended when Mark Matthews beat Cosmo and gave the Rush a 1-0 lead. Adrian Sorichetti gave Saskatchewan a 2-0 lead that would carry into the second quarter.
Ben McIntosh, who scored the game winning goal, talked about the start that the Rush had in the tough environment known as ‘Banditland.’
“When you’re playing away, especially in Buffalo, coming out to a hot start is something you want to do,” said McIntosh. “It was definitely a good start for us.”
Matthews scored again extending the visitor’s lead to 3-0 before Anthony Malcom broke through on the power play for Buffalo. Dhane Smith tallied a goal to bring the Bandits back within one, but Jeff Cornwall restored the Rush’s two goal lead. Buffalo used a four goal run to open up a 6-4 lead. Zack Greer and Jarrett Davis found the net and tied the game at six to end the first half.
Four goals were netted in the third quarter, two by each team and the game went into the fourth with the score 8-8. Shots were also even at 39 a side.
Ryan Benesch opened the scoring in the fourth to give the Bandits a 9-8 lead. Robert Church, McIntosh and Greer answered for the Rush and gave them a two goal lead that would wrap up their win 11-9.
McIntosh explained how the winning goal came about on a somewhat broken play.
“We had a play set up, but that wasn’t the play,” said the Rush forward. “I just cut to the middle and JD [Davis] saw me open, fed it to me and the ball went in.”
The game’s first star, Church (2+3), had a quiet start to the game but had a huge second half. Matthews (2+2) contributed four points. Smith (3+3) led all runners with six points.
The NLL’s top two teams showed just how evenly matched they were with a game that was contested throughout.
“Both teams are battling for the Cup, you can’t get any tighter than that was tonight,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Unfortunately they went on a run late and time ran out on us.”
Despite the loss, players and coaches from the Bandits organization are still confident.
“We hope to be back home. We’ve beaten them once in their barn and we know we can do that again,” said Bandits rookie forward Anthony Malcom. “It’s all about the one game [next week] and then we come back home. I don’t think we’d lose twice at home.”
“We can’t hang our heads. We’ve got to look forward to next Saturday and prepare,” added Cordingley. “We’ve got to play 60 minutes, not 55 minutes. We can play better. We just have to be more consistent.”
The Rush look forward to a chance to win another Champion’s Cup as the series heads back to Saskatoon.
“Game 2 could even reach another level next week,” said McIntosh. “Tonight was a battle for 60 minutes and we expect Game 2 to be a battle for 60 minutes. If there’s a Game 3, we expect the same thing.”
The Bandits and Rush will meet again for Game 2 of the Champion’s Cup Finals next Saturday, June 4 at 9 p.m. ET at the Sasktel Centre.
Three Stars of the Game
1 – Robert Church
2 – Dhane Smith
3 – Mark Matthews
By Steve Bermel for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.