BUFFALO — Winner takes all.
At 8 tonight, the Buffalo Bandits host the Colorado Mammoth in Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League Finals and the winner claims the Champions Cup and it 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, Salamanca native and Silver Creek High School graduate Frank Brown will win his first NLL championship.
If Colorado wins, it will be its first title since 2006 when it 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 title in the NLL.
While everything is on the line for both Brown and Williams, it’s guaranteed Silver Creek High School will have a champion in the NLL by the end of the night.
In Game 1, things came right down to the wire as the Bandits capitalized on a last-minute Mammoth turnover to score and win 15-14. Buffalo led for just about the entire opening game of the series, managing to hold off the potent Mammoth offense from getting by.
Things were different last weekend in Denver, with the Mammoth managing to surge at the right time for a comeback win in the fourth quarter. Buffalo led 8-6 a minute into the fourth quarter, but fell apart as the Williams-led Mammoth scored five unanswered goals to win 11-8 to force Game 3 tonight.
Williams earned the second star of the game, scoring four goals and assisting three times for seven points. Williams scored a goal in every quarter, and in the fourth he had a total of three points.
In order for the Bandits to claim their fifth title they will need to slow down Williams and have top scorers Tehoka Nanticoke, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne come up with big games. Nantioke scored five goals in Game 1, while both Smith and Byrne found the back of the net three times. Then in Game 2, the trio combined for just four goals and Nantioke could not 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 as they did in 2016 and 2019 — coming up short in the finals.
Colorado will need another big performance from goaltender Dillon Ward, who claimed the first star in Game 2 after making 40 saves and gave up just two goals in the second half.
If Williams is a big part of a Mammoth victory, he could be in line for a Finals Most Valuable Player award. Currently, Williams leads Champions Cup scoring with 15 points through the two games and teammate Connor Robinson trails him with 13 points.
Williams has proven before on the field with the Whipsnakes that he has what it takes to be the best player when it matters most, as he won the MVP and the Premier Lacrosse League title in 2020. In the box with the Mammoth, Williams has shown so far that the clutch factor translates indoors and tonight will be his chance to put a cap on it for his first NLL title.
Tonight’s game will be played in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,000 at 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.