Toronto – Maybe the writing was on the wall way back in December and these two teams were setting the tone for something very important down the road.
On Wednesday, December 15, 2010 the Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits played a pre-season scrimmage in Six Nations, Ontario and it had all the intensity of a playoff game. With players battling for jobs, the game was called in the third quarter as a bench-clearing brawl had erupted and the officials decided there wouldn’t be any more lacrosse played that evening.
Fast forward four and a half months later and this time they will be playing for their playoff lives as that same kind of intensity will be on display this Saturday night with the Rock and Bandits facing off for the East Division Championship and a berth in the NLL Champion’s Cup Final.
“It has developed into the best rivalry in lacrosse,” said Rock forward Blaine Manning. “We have a history and we respect each other, but it’s no secret that we don’t like each other.”
The Rock and Bandits met three times this season with Buffalo winning two of the three head to head battles including one in overtime. Their most recent meeting was only a few weeks ago in Toronto and it was Buffalo coming away with an 11-8 road win. That victory gave the Bandits the head to head tie breaker and also gave them home floor advantage for the East Division Final as the two teams finished with identical 10-6 regular season records.
“Every time we play it’s a tough, physical, in your face type of game,” explained Manning.
Also, throw into the mix that the Bandits have a score to settle with the Rock as it was the Rock who eliminated Buffalo from the playoffs last season.
Last year’s playoff battle and Buffalo’s 2010 regular season were total opposites. The Bandits struggled in the early part of the year and it was a second half surge that got the Bandits into the playoffs after starting the regular season 0-4. In the 2010 East Division Final, the Bandits jumped out of the gate and led the game 6-0 before there had been 20 minutes played. However, it was the Rock who had the second half surge and went on to a 13-11 win over the Bandits.
“We were very fortunate to come back after spotting them that big lead,” recalled Manning. “Lacrosse is a funny game sometimes and you can’t take a shift off, especially in their building we know they’ll be playing hard in front of their fans.”
The only other playoff meeting between the teams was back in 2004. That game was in Toronto and saw the Bandits cruise to a 19-10 win in the East Division Final.
A Rock win on Saturday night and they would host the Champion’s Cup Final on Sunday, May 15 at 2pm if Washington beats Calgary. Otherwise, a Rock win coupled with a Calgary win in the West Division Final means Toronto would be on the road for the second consecutive Champion’s Cup Final. Last season, Toronto fell to Washington in the NLL title game in Everett, Washington.
Saturday’s East Division Final will be broadcast live on TSN2 at 7:30pm from HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY. For fans interested in attending the game, the Toronto Rock have organized a bus trip to Buffalo. For more information on the bus trip, log on to www.torontorock.com.