NLL’s rock bands, bandits revamp the classic rivalry

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All the ingredients needed to spark the upcoming playoff series between the Buffalo Bandits and Toronto Rock are in place. Now only the two teams have to live up to it.

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The two decades-old contenders meet once again in the Top-of-Three National Lacrosse League Final, which begins Sunday (6 p.m.) at KeyBank Center, with the two teams in the best shape they’ve been in for a very long time.

The most intriguing element of this series is the best match between the best attack and defense. The Thieves (15-4) scored 247 goals in 18 regular season games, 33 more than the second-placed New York Riptides. The Rock, meanwhile, (14-5) allowed just 166 goals, 17 fewer than the San Diego Cells.

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Rocky goalkeeper Nick Rose led the league in scoring against average for the first time, scoring 9.05. His assistance as a defensive corps was probably the best that had been seen here in many years.

“Every year we get more experience with each other,” said defender Brad Curry. “We are all at a certain age where we are at our peak. Rosie trusts us more and we trust him more.”

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The line-makers were Mitch De Snow, who collected 185 loose balls, and Latrell Harris, who played a full season after missing most of the 2019-20 season.

“Latrell can be defensive player of the year or transition player of the year, and De Snoo can be transition player of the year,” Kri said.

Leading the attack of the bandits is Dan Smith, who scored 41 goals and 94 assists to take the league lead with 135 points, and Josh Byrne, who scored 37 goals. They also received a solid junior performance from Tehoka Nanticoke, who finished with 32 goals. But The Rock has kept them in check in their last two meetings.

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

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“We have to be self-defense.”

Ian Mackay led the move with 11 goals, and captain Steve Priollo scored 116 loose balls. Goalkeeper Matt Vince finished third in the Pro League with 10.1 goals against the average.

Both teams had interesting encounters in the first round. Buffalo went to the end of the first half as the Albany Fire Wolves tied 2-2. But the thieves found their scoring move to win 10-5. Vince was fantastic, sealing the match with a penalty that saved Ryan Benish on the fourth.

“Vince saved that and the fans went completely crazy and we were able to ride that momentum and lock it in,” McKay said.

Meanwhile, Rose made two quick stops with one minute to play against the Halfax Thunderbirds and another two minutes with time up, setting up overtime as Captain Chal Rogers, aided by some superbly-checked support by Josh Guppenville, scored to give Toronto a 14-13 win.

Meanwhile in the Western Division Final Series, the Colorado Mammoths led 1-0 after coming from behind to defeat the San Diego Sales 14-12 Friday night in San Diego. Zedd Williams led the Mammoth with five goals. That series continues next Saturday in Denver.

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