NLL’s Rock and Bandits Renew the Classic Rivalry


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All the ingredients to animate the next playoff series between the Buffalo Bandits and the Toronto Rock are in place. Now it’s up to both teams to be up to it.

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The decades-old rivals meet again in the National Lacrosse League East Finals which begin Sunday (6 p.m.) at KeyBank Center, with both teams in the best shape they’ve been in a very long time.

The most intriguing element of this series is the match between the best offense and the best defense. The Bandits (15-4) have scored 247 goals in 18 regular season games, 33 more than second-placed New York Riptide. The Rock (14-5), meanwhile, has allowed just 166 goals, 17 less than the San Diego Seals.

Rock goaltender Nick Rose led the league in goals-against average for the first time with 9.05. Assisting him was a defensive body that may have been the best seen here in many years.

“Every year we gain more experience with each other,” said defender Brad Kri. “We are all at a certain age where we are at our peak. Rosey trusts us more and we trust her more.

The difference makers were Mitch de Snoo, who recovered 185 stray balls, and Latrell Harris, who played a full season after missing most of the 2019-20 campaign.

“Latrell could be Defensive Player of the Year or Transitional Player of the Year, and De Snoo could be Transitional Player of the Year,” Kri said.

The Bandits offense is led by Dhane Smith, who scored 41 goals and 94 assists for a record 135 points, and Josh Byrne, who scored 37 goals. They also received a strong rookie performance from Tehoka Nanticoke, who finished with 32 goals. But the Rock have held them in check in their last two meetings.

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“We think we have a defense that suits them well,” Rock coach Matt Sawyer said. “They are really deep. They are seven strong guys and any guy can go any night.

“We will have to be solid defensively.

Ian MacKay led the transition with 11 goals and captain Steve Priolo recovered 116 loose balls. Goaltender Matt Vinc finished third in the NLL with a 10.1 goals-against average.

Both teams had interesting matchups in the first round. Buffalo went to halftime against the Albany FireWolves tied at 2-2. But the Bandits found their rhythm to win 10-5. Vinc was outstanding, sealing the game with a penalty shot on Ryan Benesch in the fourth.

“Vinc made that save and the crowd just went absolutely crazy and we were able to take that momentum and close it out,” MacKay said.

Rose, meanwhile, made two quick saves from close range with a minute left against the Halfax Thunderbirds and two more just as time expired, setting up extra time, in which captain Challen Rogers, aided by excellent control support from Josh Jubenville, scored to give Toronto a 14-13 win.

Meanwhile, in the Western Division Finals series, Colorado Mammoth took a 1-0 lead after coming from behind to beat the San Diego Seals 14-12 on Friday night in San Diego. Zed Williams led the Mammoth with five goals. That streak continues next Saturday in Denver.


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