Bandits spoil Wings’ NLL homecoming in season opener

If the 11,023 in attendance at Wells Fargo Center was any indication, professional lacrosse returned to Philadelphia with a bang on Saturday.

In an afternoon tilt to open the 2018-19 campaign, the expansion Philadelphia Wings showcased their new roster at home against the rival Buffalo Bandits. And while the visitors ultimately left with a 17-15 victory, the Wings put together a performance that general manager and head coach Paul Day can be proud of.

The Bandits got out of the gates strong, scoring two goals before the 13-minute mark of the first quarter. They would open up a three-goal cushion before Philadelphia scored its first goal of the season, courtesy of Vaughn Harris, who ripped a shot past Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc from nearly the restraining line.

From there on, the teams exchanged goals. The Wings began to take over in the faceoff x following the first quarter, as rookie Trevor Baptiste began to round into predictable form. The four-time NCAA All-American faceoff man finished the game with 25-of-35 draws won (71.4%) and 13 loose balls – he also managed to chip his front tooth.

2018 second-overall pick Chris Cloutier had a dominant debut, potting two goals, six points, seven loose balls, and 12 shots. Veteran Jordan Hall also finished with six points, while captain Kiel Matisz, Josh Currier, and rookie Matt Rambo all finished with three points apiece.

Rambo, the 2017 Tewaarton Award winner, managed to net his first career NLL goal in the third quarter. He also showed his willingness to lay the body.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Bandits’ attack was too much to handle. Starter Doug Buchan was replaced by Davide DiRuscio after allowing 10 goals on 24 shots. The Bandits were led by veteran Shawn Evans, who put together a modest nine-point game. New addition Corey Small also managed to score five goals in the first half. He finished the game with six points.

Sophomore Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith each finished with eight points on the game, while transition man Thomas Hoggarth posted a hat trick in the winning effort.

Vinc had a solid debut for Buffalo as well. The six-time NLL Goalie of the Year posted 36 saves on 51 shots.

Buffalo will head back to the friendly confines of Banditland and the KeyBank Center to face the Toronto Rock on Friday. The Wings have the next week off, but will travel to Roch-Vegas for a showdown with the Rochester Knighthawks on Dec. 29.

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