The Buffalo Bandits (10-6) will march into the playoffs on a losing note, as the team dropped its regular season finale to the Rochester Knighthawks (10-6) by a score of 15-9 inside HSBC Arena on Saturday night. However, the Bandits will still enter the 2011 postseason as the East Division champions.
The Bandits got off to a rocky start as Rochester took a commanding 7-1 lead in the first quarter. Buffalo had to play catch-up for the entire game, but could only close the deficit to two goals and ended up dropping the contest by six goals in front of a sellout crowd of 18,690 fans in attendance.
“We made a couple adjustments on defense, but we dug such a hole. Our offense tried to get us back into it, but we had a couple bad breaks,” said Head Coach Darris Kilgour. “There’s bad breaks and stuff that you can’t foresee happening, but at the same time, we need to come out with a better focus.”
John Tavares led the Bandits in points, notching two goals and four assists in the loss and finishes the season as Buffalo’s leading scorer with 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists). Brenden Thenhaus also made his presence felt with three goals and an assist.
Goaltender Angus Goodleaf started the game for Buffalo, but was pulled after allowing four goals on five shots early in the first 4:32 of the first quarter. Mike Thompson replaced Goodleaf, but the change was not enough to overcome the hole the team had fallen into. Thompson surrendered 11 goals on 41 shots. Goodleaf went back in later in the game, and finished the night with four saves.
The Bandits had a lackluster start to the game as Rochester exploded with four unanswered goals from Jordan Hall, Shawn Williams, Mike Accursi and Jarrett Davis early in the first quarter. As a result of the Knighthawks’ four consecutive goals, Kilgour pulled Goodleaf in favor of Thompson in hopes of creating a spark for his team.
The goaltender change had little effect on the Bandits as the Knighthawks added on to their lead with tallies by Davis and Cody Jamieson. Buffalo finally broke the goose egg with 7:20 left in the first quarter when Tracey Kelusky netted the team’s first goal on the power play. However, Shawn Evans scored less than a minute later to extend the K-Hawks’ lead. The first quarter ended with Rochester holding a 7-1 lead over Buffalo.
The second quarter got much more physical early on, as the teams combined for 12 minutes in penalties. After the dust settled, Buffalo got back into the game with three straight goals from Thenhaus, Roger Vyse and Tavares to put Buffalo within three. Rochester ended Buffalo’s scoring surge when Williams scored his second goal of the game, but Buffalo was able to counter back with another goal from Thenhaus. The Bandits went into the locker room trailing the Knighthawks 8-5 at halftime.
Buffalo continued to climb at the start of third quarter when Chad Culp netted the Bandits’ sixth goal of the game. Mark Steenhuis also notched one in the quarter, but Buffalo still had a tough time containing the Knighthawks’ offense. Rochester got three goals from Jamieson, Hall and Davis to take an 11-7 lead at the end of three quarters.
Thenhaus capped off his hat trick in the fourth quarter when he scored Buffalo’s eighth goal. Rochester countered back when Jamieson and Kevin Fines scored within two minutes of each other. The K-Hawks kept rolling with goals from Troy Bonterre and Accursi to seal Buffalo’s fate.
The Bandits got another goal from Tavares, but it was all they could muster, as they dropped their regular season finale in front of a sold-out HSBC Arena crowd.
“It’s tough coming out like that. Hard to pinpoint what went wrong but we came back real strong in the second, shut them down. If we play 60 minutes like we did in the second quarter there, they don’t come close to us. I think we just gotta come out a little more intense, a little more prepared,” said Thenhaus.
The Bandits’ season finale was also “Fan Appreciation Night”, where the team gave away autographed Bandit jerseys to randomly selected season ticket holders throughout the game.
The winners joined the team on the field after the game to receive their jerseys.
Buffalo finishes in first place of the Eastern Division and second overall in the National Lacrosse League. The Bandits will have home turf advantage for at least two playoff games.
Now that the season has concluded, the Bandits will put their focus on the Eastern division semi-final matchup against the fourth place Boston Blazers (8-8). The first round matchup inside HSBC Arena is scheduled for Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m.