As we have done many times in the past, my son and I travelled down the QEW to Buffalo to watch the Rock and Bandits duke it out. Of course, this wasn’t just any game, this was the Eastern Division finals, where the two best teams in the East (“that’s arguable” say the Swarm fans) battled for the right to host the Roughnecks in this year’s NLL Championship series. The Bandits were the clear favourite, being the #1 seed and all, but the Rock had won a number of games this season that they probably shouldn’t have, and the Bandits did take them seriously.
The game went back and forth for the first 25 minutes or so, though it still seemed to me that the Bandits were a little more in control than the Rock. But the Rock have won a few games this season without being dominant, and I’m sure the Bandits knew that. Rose and Vinc were on their games and kept it close. Then Buffalo went on to score six goals over the next 15 minutes or so, while keeping the Rock scoreless for the same 15. The Rock never gave up though, and scored the next four, keeping the Bandits scoreless for the twelve minutes.
But the Bandits did not have the best record in the league for no reason. Vinc recovered from his short stint of looking human and that gave the team the boost they needed. Their balanced offense (Small had three goals, nobody else had more than two) scored the next four and only allowed one Toronto goal in the last twelve minutes. Quite simply, Buffalo was the better team and thus punched their ticket to the NLL Finals.
Adam Jones was Toronto’s best player though Challen Rogers also played very well, as always. Tom Schreiber and Rob Hellyer scored no goals, and the Rock aren’t going to win many games with neither of them putting the ball in the net. Craig, Lintner, and Powless had no points between them, also not part of a winning plan. Nick Rose played well and Toronto’s defense was pretty strong but the Bandits were relentless.
Buffalo’s defense was also tenacious, and many times the Rock were down to tossing the ball into the corner or taking bad-angle shots with with a second left on the shot clock. Adam Jones scored on one such impossible-angle shot, but the ball went in a half-second after the shot clock buzzer. Matt Vinc was excellent and was named the game’s first star. Many of the shots he faced were outside shots from distance, which seemed to work for the Rock in Georgia last week. The Rock did score on a few outside shots but there weren’t enough of them; the Buffalo defenders just wouldn’t allow them and if they did, well, they had Matt Vinc.
Best player on the Bandits was Matt Vinc. Steve Priolo had a great game and Chase Fraser worked his butt off up front. Mitch De Snoo also played some solid D but he took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for saying something unpleasant to the ref after disagreeing with the penalty he’d already been given. Unsportsmanlike conduct is literally the most unnecessary and avoidable penalty in the game. Update: I have since found out that De Snoo’s father passed away just a few days ago. The fact that he was able to play at all shows his dedication to the team, who gave him their player of the game award. My condolences to him and his family; due to extenuating circumstances, he gets a pass on the penalties.
I hate the phrase “they wanted it more” but that’s kind of what it looked like. The Bandits now host Championship Game 1 next Saturday. Game 2 is in Calgary the Saturday after that, and if it’s needed, Game 3 will be the following Friday (May 31).
Other game notes:
- In the second, Chase Fraser fought off some checks from a Rock defender, fell, got back up, dove through the crease, and scored. The replay showed that he touched the crease before the ball went in so it was waved off, but what an effort.
- Alec Tullett got his helmet knocked off during play, then got up and ran right back into the play again, trying to dig out a loose ball. Yay for your work ethic and everything, but you can’t do that. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen that penalty called since EVERYBODY KNOWS that you can’t continue playing once you lose your helmet. Everybody knows that, right? Apparently Tullett didn’t. He looked completely confused when the ref called him for a penalty.
- A number of Rock goals that were waved off did not get timely replays, so the Rock were unable to decide whether to challenge them. I thought there was a specific rule in the rule book saying that the home team must show replays of all goals and close plays so that coaches have something on which to base a decision, but I couldn’t find such a rule. Not showing such replays when they might benefit the opposing team is a dick move, in my opinion, though I have friends that say that’s part of the home floor advantage.
- Shawn Evans’s goal song is Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Great song, but a bit of an odd choice. Not exactly uplifting or upbeat.
- My son and I were sitting in section 117 among numerous die-hard Bandits fans. Probably 80+% of everyone around us was wearing a Bandits jersey, shirt, or hoodie. There were other Rock fans at the game but in this section, we were by ourselves in a sea of orange and black. I was wearing a Rock jersey but at no point were we chirped or singled out or anything, other than one guy who laughed and waved sarcastically while walking by our car as we waited to leave the parking garage. Even when the game ended and the fans were jubilant, nobody pointed to us or laughed at us or said “See ya next year!” or anything. One guy in the arena waved at us on our way out and said “Thanks for coming and supporting the American economy!” You hear horror stories about fans in every arena but I’ve never had anything but great experiences in Buffalo.