The Buffalo Bandits used to be a regular visitor to the championship game of the National Lacrosse League season. In their first 17 years of play, they reached the final eight times - almost half the time.
But they haven’t played for the Champion’s Cup since 2008. By Buffalo’s standards, that’s an eternity.
The wait came to an end last week when the Bandits defeated the New England Black Wolves to win the NLL East title. They’ll try to improve their record in the championship round to 5-4 as the best-of-three series with Saskatchewan begins Saturday night.
Here’s a look back at how the previous games have gone; all of their past finals were a one-game playoff:
1992 - Buffalo 11, Philadelphia 10 (OT): The Bandits’ season came out of a storybook. They lost their first three games, and then won five straight in the regular season. Buffalo took care of Boston and Detroit to reach the championship game in Philadelphia. The Bandits were down a goal late when Derek Keenan drilled a shot from long range to even the game.
Then John Tavares - the game’s most valuable player - went behind the back in overtime for his fourth goal of the night.
“I was looking more for luck than skill,” he said. “I was aiming high, and it hooked down and went between his legs. I didn’t know where it was going, so how was the goalie going to know?”
1993 - Buffalo 13, Philadelphia 12: In terms of talent, this may have been the greatest game in indoor lacrosse history. Both teams had large numbers of future Hall of Famers on their rosters. The Bandits sailed through the regular season unbeaten, and met the Wings again in the final.
Philadelphia led, 12-11, with less than two minutes to go. But Kevin Alexander, in his last game as a professional, tied the score for Buffalo. Then the Bandits picked up a power play, and Darris Kilgour beat goalie Dallas Eliuk in the final 30 seconds.
“I was actually lucky,” Kilgour said. “My stick hooked. Dallas was all over it, but he jumped so hard that he lifted his arm and it went under his arm.”
Tavares earned another MVP award for his four goals.
1994 - Philadelphia 26, Buffalo 15: Another sellout crowd filled Memorial Auditorium for a third straight final between the Wings and Bandits. After a close first half, Philadelphia simply overpowered Buffalo to get a little revenge for the previous two seasons. Paul Gait had eight goals and three assists for the new champs.
“They got on a roll, and we just didn’t do anything at all to stop it,” the Bandits’ Stu Aird said after the game. “Instead, we helped fuel it with our play. We couldn’t get over the hump, and we have to blame ourselves for a lot of that.”
1996 - Buffalo 15, Philadelphia 10: No late-game dramatics were needed as the Bandits concluded a dominating season with their third championship in five years. Pat O’Toole earned MVP honors for his goaltending work, and Troy Cordingley and Jason Luke led the way with three goals each. It was the last indoor lacrosse game played at Memorial Auditorium.
“It was pretty sweet to beat them right there,” Rich Kilgour said. “That was the greatest arena ever to play in. I love how nice the new arena is but that old arena just had character. It felt like the fans were right on top of you.”
1997 - Rochester 15, Buffalo 12: It looked like the Knighthawks did the Bandits a favor by knocking off Philadelphia in the semifinals, as the Wings hadn’t missed a final since 1991. But Rochester was no pushover, and beat the Bandits to claim its first championship.
“Too many penalties by us, too much good goaltending by them,” said Tavares. “We had our opportunities but we weren’t scoring. Sometimes it’s hard to keep everybody focused on the game at hand when that happens.”
The game is remembered as Les Bartley’s last as coach of the Bandits. The man who guided Buffalo to five championship game appearances in six years took over the new Ontario Raiders in Hamilton in 1998.
2004 - Calgary 14, Buffalo 11: The Bandits had won earlier playoff games in Rochester and Toronto before heading west to take on the Roughnecks in Calgary. A 10-2 run by the Roughnecks in the middle of the game proved crucial.
“[Calgary goalie Curtis Palidwor] made some really huge saves when we were within one, and that was the difference,” coach Darris Kilgour said. “But it all boils down to the fact that we didn’t play very good defense in the second and third quarters.”
2006 - Colorado 16, Buffalo 9: The Bandits were back at home for a championship game for the first time in nine years, and picked an unexpected time to play a stinker. Buffalo trailed by 7-2 at halftime and by 9-2 in the third quarter, and never threatened the rest of the way.
“We just dug too big a hole,” Bandits defenseman Kyle Couling said. “We tried to climb out but you just can’t afford to take a quarter off in a championship game.”
2008 - Buffalo 14, Portland 13: The Bandits made it through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and were favored to beat a LumberJax team that had gone 6-10 in the regular season. But Portland got hot at the right time to reach the final, and then gave the Bandits everything they could handle in the title game.
With Buffalo clinging to a one-goal lead in the final seconds, goalie Mike Thompson stopped Peter Jacobs to preserve the win. And the Bandits had their fourth championship.
“They had a great opportunity and Mike stopped it,” said coach Darris Kilgour. “That’s the one everybody will remember but Mikey made just so many big saves for us all night long.”