By Chris Ryndak - Bandits.com
The Buffalo Bandits used their off-season to improve the offense and their moves proved to pay dividends in the team’s season opener Saturday night.
Luke Wiles, acquired in a trade with Washington, scored a second half hat trick to lead the Bandits (1-0) to a 14-10 win over their divisional rival, the Toronto Rock (0-2) at First Niagara Center. Wiles wasn’t the only new Bandit to get on the score sheet. Mat Giles and Kevin Buchanan each added a pair of goals in their Bandits’ debuts.
The Bandits also received a stellar game from their starting goaltender, Mike Thompson, who stopped 41 of 51 shots. Head coach Darris Kilgour called Thompson's stick save on Dan Carey in the third quarter the turning point of the game.
“I thought that really picked our bench up and the boys really wanted to pull one out for Mikey,” Kilgour said. “I thought he played one of the best games I’ve ever seen as a Bandit. Without him, it would’ve been a completely different game.”
Nine different Bandits scored in the game including Scott Self, Steve Priolo, John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis, Tracey Kelusky and Chad Culp. Even with the balanced scoring, Tavares led the team with two goals and six assists.
“That’s exactly what we wanted when we made the changes. We wanted more balanced scoring,” Kilgour said. “We didn’t want to be Johnny and Mark, Johnny and Mark. We wanted to spread it around and that’s exactly what we got tonight. Hopefully, that carries throughout the season.”
Trailing 6-5 at halftime, the Bandits came back out in the third quarter to score the next three goals to take an 8-6 lead. The Rock were able to rally and tie the game, but Buffalo stepped on the gas and scored the next five goals to go ahead, 13-8.
“Come the fourth quarter, I’m hopefully going to have energy and be the one who’s still attacking the net. I attack the net early," Wiles said. "My shots really didn’t fall, but they fell late in the game which is when the game’s on the line."
Buffalo plays the Rock twice more this season with the next game on March 16 in Toronto. The Bandits next game is Saturday when they travel to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s just one game right now. We gotta keep playing well. I know we’ll have a tough game in Rochester," Self said. "...We just gotta keep getting better each week."