BUFFALO – Winner takes all.
Tonight at 8, the Buffalo Bandits host the Colorado Mammoth in Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League Finals and the winner takes home the Champions Cup, which can be seen on ESPNU.
If Buffalo wins, it will be their first title since 2008 when current coach John Tavares led the organization to their fourth indoor lacrosse championship and first Champions Cup. Additionally, if the Bandits win, Salamanca native and Silver Creek High School graduate Frank Brown will win his first NLL championship.
If Colorado wins, it will be its first title since 2006, when it defeated the Bandits 16-9 in a winner-take-all final. If the mammoth wins, it will be Silver Creek High School graduate Zed Williams’ first title in the NLL.
While everything is on the line for Brown and Williams, what is certain is that Silver Creek High School will have a champion in the NLL by the end of the night.
Game 1 really got going as the Bandits capitalized on a last minute Mammoth turnover to score and win 15-14. Buffalo led almost the entire opening game of the series and managed to stop the powerful mammoth offense from getting through.
That was different in Denver last weekend, where the mammoth managed to step up at the right time in the fourth quarter for a comeback win. Buffalo led 8-6 in a minute in the fourth quarter but fell apart as the Williams-led mammoth scored five unanswered goals and won 11-8 to force Game 3 tonight.
Williams earned the game’s second star, scoring four goals and assisting three times for seven points. Williams scored in each quarter, with three points total in the fourth.
For the Bandits to win their fifth title, they need to put the brakes on Williams and come up with big plays from top scorers Tehoka Nanticoke, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne. Nanticoke scored five goals in Game 1 while both Smith and Byrne hit the back of the net three times. Then, in Game 2, the trio combined just four goals and Nanticoke couldn’t find the back of the net.
Brown and the rest of the Bandits defense improved from Game 1 to Game 2, but without offense, the Bandits will face a similar fate to 2016 and 2019 – they will come up short in the Finals.
Colorado will need another big performance from goaltender Dillon Ward, who grabbed the first star in Game 2 after 40 saves and conceded just two goals in the second half.
If Williams has a big part in a mammoth win, he could be in line for the Finals Most Valuable Player award. Williams currently leads the Champions Cup standings with 15 points across the two games, with teammate Connor Robinson trailing him by 13 points.
Williams has already proven with the whipsnakes on the field that he has what it takes to be the best player when it counts, winning the MVP and Premier Lacrosse League titles in 2020. In the box with the mammoth, Williams has shown so far that the clutch factor translates indoors and tonight is his chance to cap him for his first NLL title.
Tonight’s game will be played to a sold-out crowd of 19,000 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The game can be viewed on ESPNU and ESPN+ and followed on Twitter via @Chris__Storms for game updates.