The Buffalo Bandits’ season came to a close on Saturday night as the team lost the Eastern Division Final to the Toronto Rock by a score of 12-11 inside HSBC Arena.
The loss eliminates Buffalo from postseason contention and closes the book on the team’s 20th season, a year that saw the team finish in first place in the East Division during the regular season with a 10-6 record.
Buffalo got off to a slow start to the game as the team fell behind 6-0 at one point in the first half. The black and orange were able to recuperate in the second quarter, however, and closed the deficit to one during the second quarter and went into halftime trailing 9-6.
The Bandits continued to rally back in the second half and got within one goal in the final minutes of the game, but the effort wasn’t enough to make up for a lackluster first quarter and the Rock left HSBC Arena as the Eastern Division champions and have a date in next week’s Champion’s Cup final.
“We’re a pretty good front-running team and so is Toronto. I mean kudos to us for coming back and making a game of it but it wasn’t in the playbook for us to get off (to a slow start) like that. You do spend a lot of energy getting back, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” said Kyle Clancy.
John Tavares was a late scratch prior to the start of the game due to injury. Clancy filled in for the NLL’s all-time leading scorer and filled in admirably. Clancy (4-1-5) led the team in scoring with four goals and an assist while Roger Vyse scored three goals in the loss. Brett Bucktooth (0-4-4) and Tracey Kelusky (1-3-4) also got on the score sheet with four points each.
Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson was pulled 17:12 into the game after the Bandits went down by six goals. Angus Goodleaf came in to relieve Thompson, but the goaltending change wasn’t enough for the team to pull off the comeback. Thompson made 16 saves on 22 shots before he was pulled while Goodleaf finished the night with 17 stops on 23 shots.
Toronto dominated the opening quarter as the Rock out-shot Buffalo, 19-6. The Rock ended the quarter with a 4-0 lead after Rob Marshall, Kasey Beirnes, Garrett Billings and Stephen Hoar all lit the lamp in the first.
The Rock continued to pile it on at the start of the second quarter with two quick goals from Stephan Leblanc and Rob Hellyer. Following Toronto’s sixth goal, Bandits Head Coach Darris Kilgour pulled Thompson in favor of Goodleaf in an effort to spark the team.
The change paid immediate dividends as Buffalo roared back with three straight goals from Clancy, Vyse and Chad Culp. However, the Rock slowed down Buffalo’s momentum when Colin Doyle intercepted Darryl Gibson’s pass and scored Toronto’s seventh goal of the night. Buffalo then rallied back with three goals from Vyse, Clancy and Kelusky to make it a one-goal game. Despite the Bandits’ comeback, Toronto went into halftime with all the momentum after Leblanc netted two goals in the final minute of the second quarter to send his team to the locker room with a 9-6 lead.
Toronto picked up where it left off in the third quarter as Phil Sanderson and Billings increased their team’s lead to 11-6. Buffalo countered back with a goal from Clay Hill. The Bandits also caught a break when an apparent goal by Doyle was overturned thanks to Kilgour’s challenge. Unfortunately, the Bandits couldn’t shift the momentum after the call, and the quarter ended with Buffalo trailing 11-7.
Like the other three quarters, Toronto opened the scoring in the fourth with Billings’ third goal of the game. The Bandits roared back with four consecutive goals from Vyse, Culp and two from Clancy to make it a one-goal game late in the fourth.
The final minute kept the fans on their feet. Buffalo was able to pull off two last minute scoring chances from Brett Bucktooth and Mark Steenhuis, but the team came up empty-handed and the Bandits season ended on home soil.
“I’m very proud of this team because we battled all year long,” said Kilgour. “We weren’t picked very high in the beginning of the season, and we changed their minds there. We had two bad games at the end of the season, and we turned that around. We had our chances.”
Toronto’s victory will put the team in the NLL Championship game for a second straight season as they will host the Washington Stealth on May 15 in a rematch of last year's final. The Rock lost to Washington in the finals last year by a score of 15-11.