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The Bandits Win Second Straight Title in Front of Banditland

It was inevitable, wasn’t it?

The Bandits opened up the game, doing what the Bandits do best in Banditland. They brought the energy and had all of their warriors ready to battle ferociously. For most of the opening 15 minutes, they were playing like they knew they didn’t want to return to Albany for Game 3. They knew they wanted to collect their 6th NLL championship in front of their home fans. 

It seemed like everyone was hungry to get their name on the scoresheet in the 1st quarter. You had four goals from four players, and only one of those was from Dhane Smith or Josh Byrne. Even Brandon Robinson scored a goal – it was only his 3rd goal of the playoffs, and it was his first goal since Game 1 of the NLL Semifinals against the Toronto Rock. In all, eight players tallied a point in that frame, led by Byrne, who had four points on four assists. 

Yet, despite jumping out to a 4-1 1st quarter lead at the 4:14 mark of the quarter, Albany chipped away and scored two goals in the final four minutes, including a Sam Firth tally with seconds left on the clock. This was a trend in the opening half.

The 2nd quarter started much like the 1st. The Bandits opened the quarter with four consecutive goals to expand their lead to 8-3. Again, the run was spurned on by a valiant team effort. During that stretch, Chase Fraser and Tehoka Nanticoke each registered their 2nd goal of the game. 

Yet, once again, as the Bandits started to pull away, Albany had a response, and their 2nd quarter comeback attempt was more significant than what they achieved in the first. Less than a minute after Fraser potted the goal that pushed the score to 8-3, Simmons got one back. After Buffalo responded with a goal of their own, Albany rattled off three goals in a row to shrink the Bandits’ lead to 9-7. 

That FireWolves streak continued in the 2nd half as Travis Longboat opened the scoring in the final 30 to make it 9-8. It was at this moment that most of the energy seemed to get sucked out of Banditland. That didn’t last long. Over the next seven minutes, Buffalo strung together five straight scores, including three goals from Chase Fraser to bring his game goal total to five. Byrne’s assists total had jumped to seven for the game.

By the end of the 3rd quarter, the score was 14-8, and it was pretty clear that the Bandits were going to hoist the NLL Cup following 15 more minutes of game time. 

Albany tried to chip away at the Bandits lead – they scored three goals in the first five minutes of the quarter, but there just wasn’t enough time on the clock, or enough shots falling, to change the eventual outcome of the contest. Even with their final push to score two more goals in the last three minutes of the match, they couldn’t get it done. 15-13 was the final. The Bandits were crowned champions. 

The Bandits have now won back-to-back championships and completed their second back-to-back in franchise history. Tavares notched his 6th NLL championship (four as a player and two as a coach), further establishing his status as the NLL’s G.O.A.T

With four consecutive finals appearances, and now two championships in a row, the Bandits dynasty is very real, and who knows how long it’s going to last. Yet, as Banditland celebrates, we cannot forget about what Albany was able to accomplish all season long. 

FireWolves GM and Head Coach Glenn Clark was very proud of the effort his guys put forward on Saturday night. They never gave up and laid down. The youngest team in the league was resilient and proved so many doubters wrong. They were one of the greatest stories in NLL history, and one of the greatest stories in recent sports history.

“I’m exceptionally proud…” Coach Clark said. “…They exude character on and off the floor, which, for me, more so than where we got to, and the turnaround and everything else, it’s important to me how a group conducts themselves. When you look around the community in Albany or you look around the lacrosse community in general, these guys are outstanding citizens – they handle themselves with class, and that’s important to me.”

For everything that Albany achieved this year, we must also sing praises from the rooftops about what the Bandits were able to accomplish. This one is special because of how this team was able to turn its season around. 

Ian MacKay best summed up the total team effort in Game 2 and how Saturday night’s performance was emblematic of what this team can achieve when everyone is working together. The Bandits had seven different goal scorers, including five multi-goal scorers, and 13 different players tallied a point. 

“Josh Byrne, MVP of the league, but you see him battling in the corner for loose balls,” Mackay said. “It’s easy to follow that lead and jump in on that, too. Seeing guys of that stature – Dhane getting back on defense – it’s the leaders in our locker room that are doing those little things. To see that and have our whole locker room follow suit, it ended up being a pretty special night.” 

Banditland, enjoy this moment. This title is for you. This championship is for the city of Buffalo. You never stopped believing, even when the team had a record of 5-6 more than halfway through the season (even if there were many frustrations in the early goings of this season).

The Bandits are champions (again). Get used to it.

 

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