NLL Notebook: Bandits Advance Along with Three Underdogs

PHOTO BY T. JENSEN

Moments after Joey Cupido finished off the game-winner to give the Colorado Mammoth the overtime upset win over the Saskatchewan Rush in the first round of the NLL playoffs.


The opening weekend of the National Lacrosse League playoffs featured three close games, including two decided by one goal, and one where the top seed in the league cleanly took care of its business.

Following a pair of rare Monday games, we have our four participants in the divisional finals. Toronto will head to Buffalo in the East, and Colorado will travel to Calgary in the West.

The West final will be played first, at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, with the East scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The most electrifying game of the bunch last weekend was in Saskatoon, where the just-as-electric transition specialist Joey Cupido sent the top seed in the West Division home packing.

The former NLL Transition Player of the Year was able to intercept a Robert Church pass, go in all alone on Evan Kirk and score the overtime game-winner in fourth-seeded Colorado’s 11-10 upset of the Rush on Saturday night.

“Honestly, there was a part of all of us that we felt this isn’t a pipe dream, that we’d actually come in here and win,” Mammoth coach Pat Coyle told ColoradoMammoth.com following the game. “No one really thought that, but we did.”

The win was Colorado’s first ever in the always-tough-to-play-in Sasktel Center. The Mammoth nearly pulled off the victory in regulation when Ryan Lee gave the team a one-goal lead with less than three minutes remaining, but Ben McIntosh forced the extra frame with a goal in the final minute.

Saskatchewan entered the fourth up 7-4, but Colorado was able to surpass its goal total from the previous 45 minutes in the final 15 of regulation. Lee, Eli McLaughlin and Jacob Ruest each scored twice in the 6-3 run.

The Mammoth will meet Calgary after the Roughnecks were also able to complete an upset and a thrilling comeback, ending arguably the best story in the league this season.

Calgary scored the final two goals of the game and five of the last six, and Curtis Dickson notched the game-winner 7:04 into the final frame to secure a 12-11 Roughnecks victory against the San Diego Seals Monday. The team is making its second straight trip to the divisional final and sixth trip in seven years.

“Our plan at the half was to keep grinding, keep battling and just try to get more offensive possessions and tire them out,” Roughecks coach Curt Malawsky said. “That was how it worked out in the fourth quarter.”

After the teams went into the break tied 6-6, San Diego appeared to get the jump on Calgary with a 4-2 third quarter advantage. Kyle Buchanan, who finished with a team-leading six points, scored twice during the run.







The Roughnecks responded with a 4-1 run in the fourth, shutting out the Seals for the second half of the frame after Dickson’s fourth goal of the night.

“It’s just believing in ourselves,” Dickson said. “When the playoffs come around it’s just who wants it more. I think when it came down to the nitty-gritty there, we wanted it more.”

In the East, the Buffalo Bandits were able to ride a proven playoff stalwart, Matt Vinc, to a third victory against the New England Black Wolves this season. Vinc made 46 saves as the Bandits advanced to the divisional final for the first time since 2016 with a 13-6 win against the Pack Saturday in KeyBank Center.

“Every game you go into it with same mentality,” Vinc said. “The preparation is the same. As I get older, I’m able to keep my emotions in check and adapt and overcome. That’s been my mainstay.”

Buffalo scored on its first three shots, and while they didn’t control the game entirely the rest of the way, the Bandits never trailed. New England got within one in the second quarter but a four-goal run stretching from the second into the third and a 4-1 run to end the game was enough for the team to cruise in the final minutes.

Eight Bandits players found the back of the net, with Shawn Evans leading the way with three goals.

“Whenever your goalie’s playing well, it gives everybody confidence,” co-head coach John Tavares said. “It gives them the ability to go take more risks out there because they know they have a wall behind them.”

You can’t look past any team in this league, but Buffalo’s path to a championship appears a bit lighter after all three other favorites were eliminated this weekend.

The top-seeded Bandits will host longtime rival Toronto next Saturday after the Rock pulled off a 16-14 road victory against the Georgia Swarm in a matchup of two 12-6 teams Monday.

Toronto held a 13-8 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Georgia mounted an impressive final effort thanks to a pair of goals each from Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson and one each from Holden Cattoni and Randy Staats.

“I was hoping they could run the clock,” Toronto coach Matt Sawyer said. “True to form, we made it interesting.”

Thankfully for Toronto, it built a big enough cushion to survive and advance to its first divisional final since 2017.

“It’s been a long history with that team,” said Toronto forward Adam Jones, who had nine points. “Kudos to them, they didn’t quit. Made it a game at the end, but we stood strong.”

Playoff leaders

Six players notched seven or more points in the first weekend, with Jones leading the bunch. Shayne Jackson (Georgia) had eight while Curtis Dickson (Calgary), Lyle Thompson (Georgia), Dane Dobbie (Calgary) and Dhane Smith (Buffalo) all had seven.

Past history

Colorado has only beaten Calgary in the playoffs once in ten tries, way back in 2006 in the Mammoth’s championship season. The Roughnecks have won nine straight, most recently ending Colorado’s season last year with a 15-12 victory in the divisional semifinals.

Two of the last four meetings have gone to overtime: A 11-10 Calgary win in 2016 and a 16-15 Calgary triumph in 2014.

The Bandits and Rock have met five times in the playoffs, including three straight years from 2010-12. Buffalo won the last postseason meeting between the two, a 15-12 divisional semifinal in 2014, but Toronto holds a 3-2 lead in the all-time series. The Rock won the last time these teams met in the divisional final in 2011.

No shame in San Diego

A well-deserved tip of the cap goes to the San Diego Seals, who were an incredible success in their first season in the league. With this one-point loss, it’s fair to say injured star Austin Staats (torn ACL) could have been enough to push the Seals into a divisional final.

“Everyone is pretty disappointed,” captain Brodie Merrill told SealsLax.com. “I think you take a step back and I’m proud of the standard that we set for this franchise. It’s just disappointing, kind of an opportunity lost, but I’m proud of the team. I’m proud of the group.”

San Diego averaged 7,769 fans this season, good for seventh in the league. The playoff game drew an announced 5,005.

The 2019 Seals will be remembered for the dazzling plays of Austin Staats and the resurgence and emergence of players who received limited time in a nine-team league. Who would have guessed Garrett Billings would rebound from his knee injury to finished tied for fifth in the league in assists?

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