The Colorado Mammoth dropped a 13-12 final to the Buffalo Bandits in Game 1 of the NLL Finals Saturday night inside KeyBank Center.
The Bandits quickly found their way to a four-goal advantage as the contest began, sparked by a quick stick by Dhane Smith 40 seconds in. Smith struck again two minutes in to give the team an early 2-0 lead, only to be followed by goals courtesy of Chase Fraser and again Smith, as the talented forward had his first quarter hat trick in just over eight minutes of play.
Evan Downey stopped the bleeding for Colorado with just under five to play, finishing a transition effort by beating Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc down low.
With the sticks warmed up, Ryan Lee made it two in a row for the defending champs with a long range Leezer Lazer to make it a 4-2 game.
The two-time MVP struck back just 25 seconds later, reinstating a three-goal lead for his home team with his fourth in the quarter.
Zed Williams was cleared for a flight pattern with a minute remaining in the opening go, as the forward beat his defender eventually diving across the crease, beating Vinc in the process.
Eli McLaughlin finished a backside effort even closer to the final seconds of quarter one, with 2.9 seconds on the clock. Enduring a rowdy Banditland in the opening 15, Colorado fought back to a 5-4 ballgame.
Ian McKay got the scoring started in the second quarter, dodging inside of Mammoth defenseman Warren Jeffrey and tucking a desperate effort past Ward early into period two.
Mammoth forward Tyson Gibson buried a fierce step-down saucer after accepting a quick pass from McLaughlin, as the West Conference Champs battled back to within 6-5. Drawing a penalty on faceoff specialist Max Adler, Colorado cashed in courtesy of a Connor Robinson strike as the Mammoth continued to spread the load early.
Easily the flashiest goal of the night so far, Gibson ripped an absolute top ched bomb as the shot clock was expiring to grant Colorado it first lead of the night.
Buffalo’s Brad McCulley provided a response shortly after to create a 7-7 ballgame. But resilience runs deep in Colorado, and Flyin Ryan Lee finished a patented dive to get the Mammoth in front with less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
Just 24 seconds into the second half, the Bandits came out firing, as Tehoka Nanticoke evened the game at 8s with a quick conversion before Fraser found twine from long distance on a short-man tally to earn the lead for Buffalo. Smith logged another for Buffalo to make it three in a row. Continuing the run, Nanticoke beat his defenseman before beating Ward to make it an 11-8 game.
As the scoring barrage raged on, McLaughlin notched his second of the night to bring the Mammoth back within two.
Nanticoke was able to convert on the power play midway through the third to restore the team’s three-goal lead.
Battling back on the power-play the other way, Zed Williams accepted a dish from Lee and sent a slick underhand skipper past Vinc to create a 12-10 game. Fraser eventually picked up another during a power play on the team’s fifth opportunity within the same penalty.
On the Mammoth’s next possession, veteran Chris Wardle did it all himself, faking the opposition and heading toward the crease, beating Vinc and inching Colorado back within two. In a battle of man-up tallies, Eli McLaughlin got the boys back within one with 5:18 to play, but it would solidify a close 13-12 final.
Eli McLaughlin (3g, 3a) and Ryan Lee (2g, 4a) paced Mammoth scoring efforts with six points each while Zed Williams (2g, 3a) and Connor Robinson (1g, 4a) each chipped in five points. Tyson Gibson (2g, 1a), Evan Downey (1g, 1a) and Chris Wardle (1g, 0a) each found the scoresheet, while goaltender Dillon Ward stopped 42-of-55 on the night.
The defending champs will now return to the Loud House on Monday for Game 2 of the NLL Finals, set to begin at 2 p.m. MT and broadcast live on ESPN 2.
Tickets for the NLL Finals Game 2 matchup inside Ball Arena on Monday, May 29 are officially on sale, with limited seats remaining.