BUFFALO — For the first time since 2008, the Buffalo Bandits will play for the National Lacrosse League’s Champions Cup.
The Bandits finished off a sweep of the New England Black Wolves Saturday with a 20-15 win at First Niagara Center.
NLL scoring champion and record holder Dhane Smith posted another team-best night with nine points on four goals and five assists. Ryan Benesch (four assists) and Alex Kedoh Hill (four goals) marked seven points each, Mark Steenhuis (three goals) had five points and Chad Culp (three goals) had four points.
“This is the goal that we set on the first day of training camp on November 27, and it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley told reporters following the game. “While it’s good that we’ve got there, we’re not done. We still have work to do.”
Veteran goalie Anthony Cosmo made 35 saves on 50 shots.
“This was a battle,” Cosmo said. “This was the most exhausting game that I’ve ever seen two teams play. With our explosiveness offensively, we did a great job, and we’re off to the dance. That’s all you can ask for.”
New England’s Kevin Buchanan scored six goals and Shawn Evans had two goals and four assists.
The Bandits held a 14-13 lead entering the fourth quarter before Benesch scored back-to-back goals and, leading 17-15, Culp finished off his hat trick. Steenhuis added a penalty shot and Hill closed scoring at 1:03.
“With Culp, here’s a guy that’s 5-foot-9 and he’s banging bodies every time out there,” Cordingley said. “He’s doing all of the grit work on offense, and it was great to see him rewarded with three goals after all of the work he’s put in this year.”
Buffalo (15-5) hosts West Division champion Saskatchewan (15-5) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to open the three-game Champion’s Cup series. Game 2 is June 4 in Saskatoon and Game 3 (if necessary) June 11 in Buffalo.
In the teams’ only meeting this year, Mitch Jones scored an overtime goal for a 19-18 win at Saskatchewan Feb. 19.