5/17/2019 1:00:00 PM / Nick Konotopskyj
Head Coach John Tavares
“It’s always great making the championship, but I think sometimes people get content with that. Our goals at the beginning of the year were to make the playoffs, then make the finals and then win the championship and that’s where we’re at now. We put ourselves in position to win the Cup and it’s great to be back.
“They’re very athletic and they’re a very great team and that’s why they are back in the finals. They deserve to be here and I think they were the best team in the second half of the year. The two main guys that people talk about are [Dane] Dobbie and [Curtis] Dickson, but they got [Rhys] Duch, [Tyler] Pace and a lot of other threats out there and they have a great transition game so we’re in for a tough battle tonight. Anytime you make the finals you want to take advantage of it.”
Forward Josh Byrne
“They run a lot and especially in transition. Del Bianco [Calgary’s goalie] has a great stick and he likes to throw the ball up ahead so we have to be extra careful with that."
“Our vets have been there before so they keep us grounded and then our youth lifts us up and gives us that extra spark. It’s really nice to have that combination and even our young guys have played in big games whether it’s world championships for outdoor or whatever the case may be, we all have a lot of experience.”
“Buffalo is such an awesome sports city. These fans always come out and show support and I think you’ve seen that with Banditland. People will come out during a snowstorm and still show support so anything we can do to repay them would be awesome.”
Two wins down and two more to go. The Buffalo Bandits are just a pair of victories away from capturing the franchise’s fifth title and first since 2008. After taking down the New England Black Wolves in the first round and then the Toronto Rock in the East Division Final, the Bandits now find themselves in the NLL Finals against an opponent they haven’t seen in three months.
The Calgary Roughnecks are the West Division champs and will face Buffalo in the finals with Game 1 starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at KeyBank Center. Tickets are on sale now. You can also catch the game on WGR 550 and with a subscription to B/R Live.
The only meeting of the season between Calgary and Buffalo was also at home back on Feb. 16. The Bandits came away with a 12-10 win, but it was one of the more challenging home games of the season.
Calgary led in that one 3-2 after the first quarter, 8-6 at halftime, and then 9-8 after three quarters. But the Bandits used a 4-1 run in the fourth to take control and earn the come-from-behind win. The fascinating thing about that game for Buffalo is that no player had more than four points. It was another example of the depth of this year’s roster as the Bandits got goals and offensive production from a number of players.
“I think my message along with JT [John Tavares] all season has been to be a good teammate,” head coach Rich Kilgour said. “It’s really unbelievable to go from two years missing the playoffs to being in the finals. It’s very surreal.”
Including the two playoff wins, the Bandits have won 16 of 20 games this season. They are heading into these finals with home field advantage thanks to having the best record in the regular season. Game 2 will be at Calgary at 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 25. Since it’s a best two out of three games format, Game 3 would be back in Buffalo if the series is 1-1. That decisive game for the championship would be at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 31.
“Every guy is willing to do anything for this team,” forward Shawn Evans said. “I’ve sat out, other guys have sat out and we just keep getting better. Our offense is scoring from everybody. There’s Small, Dhane, Fraser, Byrnzy, myself, so it’s spread out scoring. When you’re getting that, then who do you cover?”
This matchup between Calgary and Buffalo features “Dhane vs. Dane.” Everyone in Buffalo knows about Bandits star Dhane Smith and how he leads the Bandits in points (102), but who is the other Dane? It’s Calgary’s Dane Dobbie, who led the entire NLL in points this season with 115 (47+68). In the one game against Buffalo this year, Dobbie had two goals and four assists. The Bandits will need to know where No. 44 is at all times because he is the Roughnecks most dangerous offensive weapon.
“We have so much confidence when our defense is playing well and Vinc is also playing well,” forward Corey Small said. “Offensively, it takes the pressure off when you don’t have to score 18 goals in a night to win. They’re doing a great job and obviously there’s still a lot of work left to do.”
Along with Dobbie, Calgary’s other top offensive weapons include Curtis Dickson with 81 points (35+46) and Rhys Duch with 74 points (27+47).
Both defenses are also very strong heading into this series. Calgary held Colorado to just four goals in the West Finals while the Bandits held Toronto’s high octane offense to just eight goals. One reason for that is the play of each team’s defense and the other reason is the goalies.
Buffalo’s Matt Vinc and Christian Del Bianco of Calgary have been two of the best goalies in the NLL this year. In the regular season, Vinc was first in the league in wins (14), first in goals allowed average (10.02), second in save percentage (.803) and he was third in saves (705). Del Bianco led the league in minutes (1074:44) and saves (716) for goalies.
“When you’re talking about the top goaltenders in the league, it’s Matt Vinc, Christian Del Bianco, and Nick Rose,” Small said.
The Bandits will host a “Party in the Plaza” on Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. prior to Game 1 of the NLL Finals.
The event will feature Orange Carpet Arrivals presented by Towne Mazda. Fans are invited to line up along the orange carpet and welcome the Bandits players as they proceed across the plaza and into KeyBank Center. Arriving in Mazda vehicles, players are expected to begin walking the Orange Carpet at 5 p.m. Click here for full details.