Riggers roll into Banditland for Game 1 of NLL Cup Final
Following a shortened offseason and five gruelling, yet thrilling, months of grade-A lacrosse (most of the time), the Buffalo Bandits and the Calgary Roughnecks have earned the right to finally represent their respective divisions and will square off this Saturday to begin the highly anticipated NLL Finals.
There is no question if either of these teams has earned the right to play in the NLL’s penultimate series, but each club has gotten to the NLL Finals through noticeably different journeys.
Over the offseason, Bandits GM Steve Dietrich acquired veteran players such as Corey Small and Matt Vinc as well as impactful rookies like Matt Gilray and Ian MacKay to bolster their roster.
As a hall of fame goaltender, Dietrich understood how important it was to acquire a future hall of fame player like Matt Vinc, and Vinc has delivered. This team has been led by the eagle-eye vision from assist-maker Shawn Evans and the dogged defending of Steve Priolo, but the Bandits wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for Vinc, especially during their playoff run.
Averaging seven goals against and 44.5 saves per game over two postseason games in 2019, Vinc has been the cornerstone of this Bandits team. In search of his fourth NLL Cup/Champion’s Cup, Vinc looks poised to finish this season at the top of the heap, although the same can be said about the Roughnecks goaltender, Christian Del Bianco.
For the Roughnecks, managing the first few games of the year without Curtis Dickson and the majority of the season without Jesse King allowed the Roughnecks to find answers in other forms and thus allowed this team to be equally as deep as the Bandits now that everyone is back on the floor.
Del Bianco has been equally remarkable as Vinc during this year’s playoff run. As the heir apparent to the NLL’s goaltending thrown, Del Bianco heads into these NLL Finals coming off one of the most spectacular goalie efforts in NLL history last weekend.
During their gritty defensive battle, Del Bianco stopped 47 Colorado Mammoth shots en route to setting a Roughnecks record of fewest goals allowed in a playoff game (four). The 21-year-old may be 15 years Vinc’s junior, but he often plays with the talent and poise of one of the league’s best between the pipes.
Regardless of how potent each of these team’s deep offences have proven to be, goals should likely come at a minimum.
Turning to the offence, the Bandits had ten goal scorers with at least ten goals this season including nearly a dozen tallies from MacKay in transition and Priolo on Defence. For the Roughnecks, outside of the typical brilliance from Dickson and the MVP-caliber year of Dane Dobbie, the team has seen consistently dynamic production from Dan Taylor and Rhys Duch who each had 20+ goals as well as reliable firepower from Jesse King since entering the lineup.
Defensively, the Roughnecks petrifying duo of Dan MacRae and Zach Currier should send chills down the spines of any oncoming offence. The pair combined for 59 caused turnovers in the regular season and have added six this postseason. For Buffalo, the triple threat of Priolo, Mitch de Snoo and Nick Weiss will likely continue to create a solid wall in front of Vinc that has been tricky to get past.
Even though the Bandits have been the model of consistency all season, the Roughnecks are coming together at the right time. Expect this series to go to a deciding third game in an epic battle that is a rematch of the 2004 Champion’s Cup that brought the Roughnecks their first NLL championship.