The Colorado Mammoth dropped a 15-14 Game 1 decision to the Buffalo Bandits as the 2022 NLL Finals series opened at KeyBank Center Saturday. The chippy, back-and-forth contest featured four separate hat-trick efforts from the Mammoth, but Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne and rookie Tehoka Nanticoke each produced seven-point performances, enough to fuel the home team to a victory.
After a quick start to the period, in which rookie Brett McIntyre opened the scoring 55 seconds in, Bandits forward Josh Byrne answered the tally a minute later to the game early. Five minutes later, The NLL’s soon-to-be MVP in Dhane Smith recorded a power-play tally to begin a four-goal barrage from the East Conference champions, which was later followed by a pair of late first-quarter rallies from Connor Fields (14:11) and Smith again (14:16) just five seconds later, ending the first with a 4-1 lead.
Picking up where it left off, Buffalo recorded its fourth in a row to open the second, as forward Chase Fraser got loose and sent one past Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward nearly two minutes in.
Five minutes later, Robinson rolled high over a double screen from Eli and Wardle before firing a step-down rip from the restraining line to bring the Mammoth back within three.
Zed received a pass from teammate Eli McLaughlin on the right side, dipped inside his defender before sending a far side bid past Vinc’s left shoulder to further minimize Buffalo’s lead, but during the Bandits’ next possession, rookie Tehoka Nanticoke introduced himself to the game, scoring his first of the night at the 7:42 mark.
With the contest’s scoring sheet warming up, McLaughlin got on the board with a diving effort less than 30 seconds later, but the heroic finish was followed up by another Smith missile during Buffalo’s ensuing possession. Nanticoke logged his second of the night 14 seconds after Smith, giving the Bandits an 8-4 lead, but the score-friendly second would then see three-straight within a minute of play from the likes of Williams, McLaughlin and McIntyre.
Nanticoke completed his first half hat trick with three minutes left in the half when the rookie sent a furious shot on net, but missed and hit the boards before deflecting off the back of Ward and into the net. Robinson netted his second of the night with another long-range bid at the 12:47 mark to create a 9-8 contest heading into the break.
Nanticoke continued to showcase his crafty ability to finish a variety of opportunities by logging two goals for Buffalo to open the second: The first at the 4:30 mark and second at the 5:30, granting the Bandits an 11-8 lead.
McLaughlin brought Colorado back within two with another diving effort past Vinc with just under four minutes remaining in the third, but Byrne responded instantly with a goal on his team’s next possession.
McIntyre went on to complete his first professional hat trick and was complemented a minute later, as Chris Wardle was wide open on the left before accepting a pass from an operating Gibson on the right and slamming one home to bring Colorado back within one.
Robinson completed a hat trick of his own at the 2:19 mark of the fourth to tie the game in Buffalo.
Chris Cloutier received a pass while lurking behind Ward’s crease and quickly peeled around the goaltender’s left side and dunked a far side attempt around him to reclaim a one-goal lead for Buffalo three minutes later, but a determined Williams wove through three defensemen and slammed home a tying bid with seven minutes remaining to re-knot the game.
Another Byrne strike from the left gave Buffalo a late lead, but Williams backed his defender down two minutes later and sent another side-armer past Vinc.
After a Mammoth rebound bounced high to midfield, the Bandits eventually gained numbers in transition before Nick Weiss finished a one-on-none opportunity with less than a minute remaining to solidify a 15-14 final. Similar to the teams’ regular season meeting, the home team won by one, with the same final score.
Connor Robinson (3g, 6a) lead the Mammoth in scoring, while Zed Williams (4g, 4a), Eli McLaughlin (3g, 5a), Brett McIntyre (3g, 2a) and Chris Wardle (1g, 3a) rounded out offensive efforts for Colorado. Tehoka Nanticoke (5g, 2a), Josh Byrne (3g, 4a) and Dhane Smith lead the charge for the Bandits, as Matt Vinc stopped 40-of-54 to maintain a perfect 4-0 record this postseason.
The squads will now meet for Game 2 in Colorado as Ball Arena and the Loud House prepares to host its first NLL Finals game in franchise history.