By Steve Bermel
The Buffalo Bandits (15-5) punched the team’s ticket to the Champion’s Cup Finals with a 20-15 win over the New England Black Wolves in front of 14,255 at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
The Bandits won the series 2-0 and advance to the championship series against the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush.
The journey to reach the Champion’s Cup Finals is a long one that began in preseason on November 27 for the Bandits and isn’t finished yet.
“At the beginning of the year, we started off training camp with a strong message to the guys, that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s good to be to this point, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
The Bandits opened the scoring just 11 seconds into the game with Jay Thorimbert finding the back of the net. Mark Steenhuis gave Buffalo a two goal lead before the Wolves went on a three goal run. Emotions boiled over after about 10 minutes when David Brock and Mike McNamara dropped the gloves. New England extended its lead to 4-2 with 2:57 to go on a power play goal from Shawn Evans. Mitch Jones and Evans traded goals and the first quarter ended 5-3 in favor of New England.
Buffalo also scored first in the second quarter when Anthony Malcom found the back of the net. The game was tied 6-6 with 9:38 to go before Mitch de Snoo took a major penalty for an illegal cross check. Pat Saunders and Kevin Crowley scored on the power play, then Derek Suddons scored short handed to give New England a 9-6 lead. The Bandits used a three-goal run to end the first half tied 9-9.
“We talked about a 9-9 game at the half. We knew we weren’t playing very well and we weren’t very smart in a couple situations,” said Cordingley. “We turned it around and eventually took the game over.”
The third quarter saw the game tied four different times until Malcom gave Buffalo a 14-13 lead into the final quarter.
Chad Culp scored his second goal before Kevin Buchanan scored his fifth to keep Buffalo’s lead at one goal. Ryan Benesch scored two straight goals to give Buffalo a three goal lead with less than five minutes to go. Buchanan scored again for New England, but Culp added another tally as the Bandits got back to up three with 1:53 to go. Steenhuis netted a penalty shot goal before Alex Kedoh Hill gave Buffalo a 20-15 lead that would seal the victory.
“This is an unbelievable feeling. It doesn’t feel real. Now we’re in the finals and we’re not done yet,” said NLL regular season scoring champ Dhane Smith. “There’s something different about this year. We don’t get too high or too low and we know we’re going to get the next goal.”
After scoring four goals in game one on Monday, Hill kept his scoring streak going in the series by adding four more goals and three assists on Saturday night. The NLL’s leading scorer Smith (4+5) also stayed red hot. Kevin Buchanan (6+1) and Shawn Evans (2+4) led the scoring for the Black Wolves in the loss.
“Kedoh has picked his game up another notch in the playoffs. He’s a great transition player and might have the best stick skills in the league,” added Cordingley.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith (4G,5A), Bandits
2) Alex Kedoh Hill (3G,4A), Bandits
3) Kevin Buchanan, Sask