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The Home Team Bids Farewell To The “Aud” With A 15-10 Victory Over The Wings…

The Buffalo Bandits thanked more than 16,000 “guests” that jammed the team’s “farewell party” from Memorial Auditorium the April 12 MILL championship game – by turning it into a “welcome home party” for the North American Cup. They did it by soundly beating the defending champion Philadelphia Wings, 15-10, who had held the Cup since wrestling it from the Bandits or the same “Aud” floor two years earlier.

“They denied us a chance to “threepeat” a couple of years ago, and it was a big thing for us to replay the favor,” said Troy Cordingley, “We showed that we were single-minded in our purpose, and that was to win back the championship for our fans.” They did it with unrelenting offense. They did it with solid defense and outstanding goalie play. They did it with veterans and rookies making contributions. And they left little doubt that they deserved the title. The Bandits took control of the contest in the second quarter Only Wing Gabby Roe’s rocket over goalie Pat O’Toole’s left shoulder interrupted a string of five Bandit tallies (six if you count the closing goal of the first period a patented Ted “Dowling Dash”) that gave the home team an insurmountable 8-3 lead at the half.

If there was a surprise in the game to this point, it wasn’t that the Bandits could score – they’d been doing that all season. And so they did again, in spite of some heroic saves by a beleaguered Dallas Eliuk in the Wings’ net. The Bandits scored inside – Jason Luke on a beautiful feed from behind the net. They scored outside Troy Cordingley nailing a corner after a nifty look-away fake. They scored on the break Dowling again dashing off Luke’s perfect outlet feed.

No, the surprise was that the Wings couldn’t – failing on five power plays after they had scored six extra-man goals in their semifinal victory over Boston just a week before. Not only was O’Toole making sparkling saves but the Bandits were gobbling up every loose ball in sight and were off to the races again. The results – one shot and out for Philly, and constant Bandit offensive pressure – were worn out by the hosts’ 35-21 shot margin at the break.

“Every single guy on this team is capable of having a big game or doing exactly what is needed at a certain moment,” said Neil Doddridge, a veteran who won a championship with the Detroit Turbos, “The incredible effort was always there from start to finish, every time out. Everybody knew their role and showed it.”

At this point the Bandits, no strangers to the penalty flag all season, seemingly provided the defending champs an opportunity to rally. As the teams returned to the floor, the Bandit bench was instructed to send a player to the box to serve a 5- minute major penalty incurred by Darris Kilgour. But the result proved to be more frustration for the Wings’ extra-man unit, which eked out a single goal, but that in the penalty’s closing seconds. And back came the Bandits with four goals in the rest of the quarter to seal the victory.

The defending champions did manage six goals in the final period and pulled within 13-9 at one point, but Bandit rookie Luke and veteran Cordingley completed hat tricks in the period and regular season point- scoring leader John Tavares registered his only goal to carry the home team to its final 15-10 margin, The Wings were lead by league MVP Gary Gait with three goals and two assists.

O’Toole’s 40-save performance earned him Bud Light game MVP honors, but Buffalo had many heroes on this night. In addition to Luke, some other Bandit rookies made significant contributions, just as they had all season. Tom Phair held his own in the face-off circle, and Steve Fannell, who while solid doesn’t often score, found the nets early while surprising Eliuk on a sneaky shot.

“Phair did an outstanding job against us,” Wings coach Tony Resch said of the rookie who led the MILL in face-off percentage during the regular season with 63.9″ “Buffalo was able to dictate the pace of the game and face-offs were a big reason why.”

The Bandits are entering the Marine Midland Arena this season. But they will be taking with them fond memories – not a few from this 1996 championship game and the North American Cup for good measure.

Courtesy of Lacrosse Magazine

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