By Budd Bailey
The short version of the story of Friday’s indoor lacrosse was that the Buffalo Bandits defeated the Albany FireWolves, 13-8, before 7,408 in the KeyBank Center.
The long version is that the game in a statistical sense must have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the history of the league – and maybe in all of sports. That’s quite a claim, but I think I can back it up.
Consider that there were 21 goals scored in the back-and-forth contest, and all of them – every single one of them – went into the same net. In other words, if you were sitting in Section 107 of the building, you didn’t get a good look at a solitary goal for the entire game. It was the lacrosse equivalent of tossing a coin up in the air 21 times, and it coming up heads all 21 times.
It’s one thing to do it at a football game, where wind can play a role in the game. But you’d need a final score of something like 84-63 in which all 21 touchdowns were scored in the same end zone. The Bandits’ game was indoors so the wind couldn’t be blamed. That took things to another level … or six.
“The floor must have been tilted,” Bandits coach John Tavares joked afterwards. “I was told that after the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. … I still don’t believe it.”
What are the odds of that happening? We have to assume that all things are equal in making some sort of calculation, which probably isn’t completely true. The teams weren’t evenly matched to the nth degree, so there wasn’t a pure 50-50 chance that a goal would go into a particular net.
But let’s say the odds of the ball going into one net were evenly divided. Then the chances of 21 balls going into the same net are one in two to the 21st power. That translates to 1 in 2,097,152. With 14 teams playing 18 games, the NLL scheduled 126 games this season. That means this should happen once every 16,644 years. Look for a repeat performance by the year 18,666.
Friday’s game had all sorts of quirks connected to it. It was the first time in more than 19 years that a pro team from Albany played a game in Buffalo. The Albany Attack, which now plays in Vancouver, lost to the Bandits, 11-10, on January 4, 2003. Just for history’s sake, the Albany Firebirds of Arena Football League lost to the Buffalo Destroyers, 51-48, here on June 10, 2000. There was a great deal of other trivia that came up along the way too.
All of this was made possible by a game that saw one team go scoreless in each of the four quarters. We figured out pretty quickly that it would be an unusual night. Ryan Benesch opened the scoring for Albany 1:35 into the game, and that was it for the first quarter’s goals.
“We played all right in the first quarter; we just didn’t bury our chances,” Tavares said.
The teams switched sides, and Tehoka Nanticoke finally got the Bandits on the scoreboard at 4:52 of the second period. That meant the teams went 18 minutes and 17 seconds without scoring; there only has been six longer scoring droughts in Bandits’ games since 2007.
Suitably inspired, Buffalo ran off five more goals to take a 6-1 lead at the half. At that point, goalie Matt Vinc of the Bandits had stopped 24 of 25 shots. To be fair, no one can stop 96 percent of opposing shots for the course of a game; Vinc is the only player above 90 percent for a game for the Bandits since January 5, 2019 (.932 vs. Rochester). So you knew it wouldn’t last.
“They’ve got a lot of good scorers,” Tavares said about Albany. “A guy like Ryan Benesch is going to get his chances. You can’t expect him (Vinc) to stop everything.”
And he didn’t. The FireWolves scored four goals in the first 4:25 of the second half to cut the margin to 6-4. Then a flurry of incidents left the Bandits in the penalty box frequently, and Albany capitalized by scoring four more goals in the third quarter. The FireWolves had an 8-6 lead, and had changed the course of the game.
“We got complacent,” Tavares said. “The game got a little out of hand, and we took most of the penalties. … We had no momentum whatsoever going into the fourth quarter.”
“They went 7-0 in the third quarter, and the offense took that as an insult,” Nanticoke added.
Luckily, it was time to change ends at that point, and the Bandits had the chance to shoot at the net that didn’t have a virtual brick wall in front of it. Dhane Smith scored at 2:11 to start a comeback, Chase Fraser tied matters 40 seconds later, and Nanticoke scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 3:56.
Then Chris Cloutier added two goals to run his total for the night to four, and Buffalo added two more goals (it had three scores in 31 seconds). Vinc did the rest, and the Bandits’ seventh win against one loss was in the books. Buffalo’s balanced scoring attack provided too much to handle.
“That’s the beautiful thing about our offense,” Cloutier said. “On any given night, anyone on our offense can go off. Tonight, the ball was falling for me.”
Nanticoke finished with three goals, Connor Field had two, Dhane Smith had two goals and four assists, and Josh Byrne added five assists. For Albany, Benesch and Joe Resetarits both finished with two goals and three assists.
Buffalo’s lone defeat came last week in Hamilton against the Toronto Rock. Therefore, it was important for the team to bounce back and not get on a losing streak.
“After that loss we had a real intense practice,” Cloutier said. “Not one person didn’t taken it personally. It just carried over to the game.”
“I hate losing – that something I don’t like doing no matter what kind of game it is,” Nanticoke said. “I hate losing rock/paper/scissors. That’s who I am. But we bounced back and got the job done today.”
The Bandits get to play again in the state of New York – where they are unbeaten – on February 26 in Rochester. Expect both goals to get a workout in that one.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)