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Senior Superlatives: NLL Playoffs Edition!

It’s the end of the year, so bust out the yearbooks. It’s time for the NLL’s version of Senior Superlatives! Best hair? Craziest driver? Nah, this is the lacrosse edition!

Let’s be honest. Most of these superlatives are going to the Bandits. Not only did they win the championship, but they did it in style. Banditland brings the energy, at home or on the road, and the players feed off of that. Every goal, every save is punctuated with emotion and that has translated through to these unserious awards. We’re just having fun here, folks, while at the same time acknowledging some of the plays and people that made the NLL Playoffs so exciting.

 

Clutchest Performance – Chase Fraser

With all eyes on league MVP Josh Byrne, and Dhane Smith, nobody was talking about Chase Fraser during the Bandits’ playoff run. But all the attention shifted to the dynamic forward in Game 2, where he popped off for five goals, including what ended up being the game-winning goal. Maybe one of the five was a goal you’d call “classic,” just a ripped shot from outside. The other four sent Banditland into a frenzy. First was a low shot in transition; on the second he picked up a rebound, made the swim move around a defender and tossed in a low backhand; the fourth was a crease dive and the fifth was the hidden ball trick. What a gutsy performance by Fraser.

Sam Firth from Albany also had five goals in Game 2, and is deserving of all the praise as well, but Fraser takes the win here due to the Bandits’ win.

 

Most Rewarding Goal – Chris Boushy

There were a LOT of candidates for the top goals of the playoffs, but Chris Boushy gets this one because the whole play was a thing of beauty. In the third quarter of the Quarterfinals against Rochester, Rock captain Challen Rogers was in the offensive zone with the ball. He fell, got up and held the ball with one hand while being harassed by a defender, passed off to Mark Matthews, who fired the ball behind the net to Boushy. Instead of going up and over the back of Rylan Hartley, Boushy shows extreme patience and tiptoes out to the front of the net before diving and stuffing the ball in. It was a play that takes high skill and a high lacrosse IQ to pull off.

 

Cool as a Cucumber Award – Matt Vinc

To borrow a catchphrase from another NLL veteran (Aaron Bold), Matt Vinc was stone cold in the 2024 NLL Playoffs. The goaltender for the Buffalo Bandits never even broke a sweat during their five-game playoff run. From stopping the Swarm in OT in the Quarterfinals, to shutting out Toronto in the last 13 minutes of Game 2 of the Semifinals, to lifting the NLL Cup for the fifth time, there was no beating Vinc this season. He’s 41 years old and playing the best lacrosse of his life.

 

Ballsiest Hidden Ball Trick – Chase Fraser and Josh Byrne

The absolute audacity of the Buffalo Bandits to not only attempt, but to pull off, a hidden ball trick in a championship game, is jaw dropping. Who else would have the guts? In the third quarter of Game 2, Fraser popped the ball out of his stick while Byrne blocked him enough that nobody saw that Byrne didn’t accept the ball. Dodging through the defense, Byrne looked like a man on a mission – so imagine everyone’s surprise when Fraser ripped the shot from the opposite side.

 

Craziest Upset – Albany Sweeps San Diego in Semifinals

A lot of focus in these Superlatives is on the Finals, but the biggest upset occurred in the second round. San Diego was ranked second, and Albany third, so where’s the upset, you ask? It’s from the fact that Albany was dead last the prior season. It’s from the fact that San Diego has loaded up year after year – Brodie Merrill came out of retirement for them! – and still never made it to the Finals. They were primed; this was their season. But Albany led after every quarter in both games. The youngest team in the league beat the oldest team in the league, and they did it fairly easily.

 

Shot Blockers Anonymous – Paul Dawson and Steve Priolo

One of the biggest storylines of the NLL Finals presented by AXIA Time was the number of shots blocked by Buffalo’s defense, specifically Paul Dawson and Steve Priolo, the twin towers on the Bandits’ back end. If their physicality wasn’t enough, they were throwing their bodies in front of shots left, right and center. Each finished with 12 blocked shots throughout the playoffs, after finishing in third and fourth in the regular season (with 25 and 24 shots blocked, respectively). Both men are in their 30s – I can only imagine the pain and bruises they felt after each game. Get them an ice bath, stat, and then all the bags of frozen peas they want!

Buffalo Bandits vs Calgary Rougnecks, April 13, 2024 at KeyBank Center.

 

Best Performance by a Rookie – Alex Simmons

Obviously, this one goes to Alex Simmons, the recent winner of the league’s Rookie of the Year award. During the playoffs, he scored 32 points after completing a 96-point regular season. He finished third in playoff scoring and first in goals with 14 – two more than Josh Byrne! Not to mention he had the most shots on goal with 71 over his five games. He was on a one-man mission to attack the opposing net. Oh yeah – and he set a record.

 

Biggest Comeback Performance – Buffalo over Toronto, Semifinals Game 2

After falling in Game 1 of their semifinals series, the Rock looked like they were poised to tie the series and send the deciding game back to Hamilton. They were up 8-4 early in the third, but that’s when the Bandits turned it up and scored six goals in a row to take the game 10-8. Matt Vinc made 13 saves in the frame and was absolutely unbeatable for the final 13:28 of play. If Toronto had won Game 2, there’s no telling how Game 3 would have played out against a Buffalo team that had just been humbled at home and a Rock team that had all the momentum.

 

Most Energetic Coach Moment – Glenn Clark

If you think the players are the most passionate people in a lacrosse game, you’re not paying enough attention to the coaching staff. They stand up there on their benches unable to dictate what happens on the floor. They can plan as much as they want but they have no control once the whistle blows. That can lead to some energetic moments where they express their emotions in interesting ways. Glenn Clark gets this award for the below clip, which occurred during a commercial break – we think he’s upset about something, perhaps?

 

Most Epic Celly – Nick Weiss

He went halfway up the boards after scoring a transition goal against Georgia in the quarterfinals, and then nearly jumped the boards again after the championship win. He just wants to be close to the fans and celebrate with them! But how does he get such height?!

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