BUFFALO – Winner takes all.
At 8 o’clock tonight the Buffalo Bandits host the Colorado Mammoth in Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League Finals and the winner wins the Champions Cup and can be seen on ESPNU.
If Buffalo wins, it will be its first title since 2008, when current coach John Tavares led the organization to its fourth indoor lacrosse championship and first Champions Cup. On top of that, if the Bandits win, Frank Brown, a Salamanca native and graduate of Silver Creek High School, will win his first NLL championship.
If Colorado wins, it will be their first title since 2006 when they beat 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 NLL title.
With everything on the line for Brown and Williams, Silver Creek High School is guaranteed to have an NLL champion by the end of the night.
In Game 1, things went to the wire as the Bandits capitalized on a last-minute Mammoth turnover to score and win 15-14. Buffalo led for most of the series opener, managing to keep Mammoth’s powerful offense from slipping away.
Things were different last weekend in Denver, with the Mammoth managing to pounce at the right time for a comeback win in the fourth quarter. Buffalo led 8-6 at the fourth quarter minute, but fell apart when the Williams-led Mammoth scored five unanswered goals to win 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 a goal in each quarter and in the fourth he had three points.
For the Bandits to claim their fifth title, they will need to slow down Williams and get leading scorers Tehoka Nanticoke, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne to offer big games. Nanticoke scored five goals in Game 1, while Smith and Byrne found the back of the net three times. Then in Game 2, the trio combined for 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 the offense, the Bandits will face a similar fate to what they experienced in 2016 and 2019 – failing in the Finals.
Colorado will need another big performance from goaltender Dillon Ward, who earned the first star in Game 2 after making 40 saves and allowing just two goals in the second half.
If Williams plays a significant role in a Mammoth win, he could be in contention for the Finals Most Valuable Player award. Currently, Williams leads the Champions Cup with 15 points across the two games and teammate Connor Robinson trails him with 13 points.
Williams has already proven on the court with the Whipsnakes that he has what it takes to be the best player when it matters most, as he won the MVP and Premier Lacrosse League titles in 2020. the box with the Mammoth, Williams has shown so far, the clutch factor translates inside and tonight will be his chance to put a cap on his first NLL title.
Tonight’s game will be played before a sold-out crowd of 19,000 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The game can be viewed on ESPNU and ESPN+ and can be followed for game updates on Twitter via @Chris__Storms.