By Mike Pesarchick
News Sports Reporter
As the Buffalo Bandits return to the NLL playoffs for the first time in two seasons, forward Dhane Smith knows there is something different about this year’s squad.
“We have gotten a lot younger, more determined,” he said Friday. “I think this is definitely the right direction.”
Smith, the “Great Dhane” as some call him, has emerged as a star for the Bandits, who sport a 12-4 record headed into tonight’s home finale with the New England Black Wolves at 7:30 p.m. on Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center.
It’s the best Buffalo has been since the 2016 team that fell in the finals to Saskatchewan.
The 2012 fifth-overall pick of the Bandits is ranked in the top-10 in the entire league in points (91) and top 20 in goals scored (30).
It’s been an excellent year for the 27-year-old, and he credits his success in part to the players around him.
“It is the help of my teammates, we have such a great offense I can give my teammates the ball, we have so many offensive threats it lets me give assists,” he said.
Smith is a key cog in the Bandits’ offensive machine that has churned out 214 goals this season, only two goals behind league-leading Georgia, and has racked up 334 assists.
That easily eclipses last year’s 526 points and 2017’s 513 points, and there’s still two games to go.
Perhaps the biggest difference maker for the Bandits this season stands between the pipes. Goaltender Matt Vinc has been worth every penny for the team.
The Canisius College product has 637 saves in 16 games of work, reminding lacrosse fans why he earned National Lacrosse League Goaltender of the Year honors six times.
It’s a night and day difference from last season and has allowed Buffalo to keep opponents to just 173 goals, the fewest in the Eastern Division.
Smith made sure to mention how Vinc changed the team. “Anytime you have the best goalie in the world, it definitely helps,” he laughed.
Even though Buffalo has already locked up a playoff berth, tonight’s game with New England is far from meaningless.
A win would give the Bandits home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and Smith knows the benefits of playing in front of a packed KeyBank Center.
“Playing at home is unbelievable, and if we win the next two that’ll give us great advantage,” he said. Buffalo is 6-2 on home turf this season.
Winning next week’s regular season finale at San Diego would also give Buffalo the top seed in the Eastern Division and throughout the playoffs.
They can also clinch the top spot if Georgia is defeated by Philadelphia in their game today. The Bandits split the season series with the Swarm this season.
Meanwhile, Smith’s contract, a two-year deal he signed in 2017, is set to expire in the offseason. According to him, there have been no talks yet regarding an extension.
“I don’t mind it that way. I’m not too worried about it; I want to be in Buffalo and they want me here. I’m focused on the playoffs and the championship,” he said.