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Bandits’ Vinc isn’t ready to hang up the pads yet

Buffalo Bandits Matt Vinc - Buffalo Bandits

If you thought that Matt Vinc might go out on top and retire as a champion, you weren’t alone.

It would make sense, with his age and the championship. But he’s still got that itch. The one that whispers he’s not ready to take off the pads just yet. Retirement is in the back of his mind, of course, but for now it’s buried pretty deep.

“I think that was probably the expected thing for me to do, was retire,” said the 41-year-old goaltender. “That’s more about what other people thought rather than what I felt. After we won, and seeing my kids in that whole atmosphere, I felt like it wasn’t over, especially with the group that we have.”

So, the St. Catharines, ON., native just signed a new two-year contract with the Buffalo Bandits, the team that he backstopped to an NLL Cup this past June. It was the Bandits’ 1st championship since 2008, and the City of Buffalo is still celebrating.

Retirement is a fair question, when so few continue playing into their 40s, but Vinc doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

“It only becomes a big deal when it’s talked about so much,” he expressed. “You watch a game and announcers mention or it, or you read a story and it’s the focal point. But I don’t feel my age. Because of my surroundings – I’m a high school teacher – I’m constantly involved or engaged in physical activity, whether it’s in class or with my young kids, and we have a young, fun group in Buffalo.”

His two kids, six-year-old Lily and three-year-old Bode, were a big part of his decision to re-sign. Vinc said it’s a 35-minute drive from his house to Keybank Center, so family and friends are at every game.

“That’s been a big part of my love for the game continuing is because I have two young kids that come to the games,” he said. “To see them in the crowd and be able to experience that with them has kind of rejuvenated me, especially after Covid. They’re starting to get it a little bit more. That’s been a big part of why Buffalo is such a great place to play, especially for me, being so close to home.”

Though he re-signed with Buffalo, Vinc did recently retire from one team, demonstrating that perhaps he’s beginning to think about slowing down. During the NLL offseason, he had been a member of the Peterborough Lakers (MSL), and won the last four Mann Cup Canadian championships with them. This summer, he decided not to return.

“It was more about time with the family but probably a little bit of [needing to rest the body, too],” he explained. “Winning a Mann Cup is a different beast. The playoff structure is a lot different with a seven-game series. It’s a grind mentally and physically and being away from the family.

“To be able to juggle that as long as I have with young kids and my wife working full time, it’s been pretty hard. I’ve been pretty thankful and fortunate not only to play for Peterborough but to have the success I’ve had in the summer season.”

Banditland would love a 4-peat of its own, but Vinc isn’t thinking past this season yet. Even though the deal he signed was for two seasons, he’s not looking beyond the first one just yet.

“I’m probably the same as Dan Dawson was, being day-to-day,” Vinc said about his career. “My focus was on a one-year deal and sometimes that gets worked into two years. We’ll see what happens at the end of next year. Ultimately the focus is on what’s up next… and then we’ll revisit and think about it with the family and teammates.”

As for this season? Vinc believes the Bandits can repeat as NLL champions, and he wants in. Banditland sure wants to keep the party going.

“That’s our goal,” Vinc said. “We just won a championship. We retained almost everybody and I think we’re getting a few good key draft picks back. That was ultimately the deciding factor on me coming back because of not only the great atmosphere that we have in Buffalo and the proximity to my home, but ultimately, the guys in the locker room are the major reason why I’m coming back. I’m a competitor first and foremost, and I want to win, and to be able to compete with that group is something very special and something I want to continue.”

The Bandits had been building towards that championship win since Vinc came on board in 2018.

An eight-time NLL Goaltender of the Year winner, Vinc finished the 2022-23 season leading the league in wins (14) and saves (742). After finishing the regular season with a 14-4 record and a 10.42 goals-against average, Vinc posted a 5-1 record with an 8.82 goals-against average during the Bandits 2023 championship run.

Vinc’s accolades are numerous: his career has spanned 17 seasons, having spent time with the San Jose Stealth, New York/Orlando Titans and the Rochester Knighthawks before signing with the Bandits as a free agent prior to the 2018-19 season. Vinc currently leads all NLL goalies in career wins (147), saves (9,788) and minutes played (14,739). He also holds NLL goaltending playoff records in wins (30), saves (1,626) and minutes played (2,512).

With all that accomplished, what, ultimately, was it that sparked his desire to return?

“The fans,” he said. “It’s an electric atmosphere. It’s probably the thing I hated the most about being on an opposing team; when Banditland gets rocking it’s a tough place to play. Ultimately, when you’re on the other side playing for the Bandits… and fans get on their feet and they’re going crazy it’s probably the best venue to play, not just lacrosse, but any sport. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in Banditland.”