The Buffalo Bandits (6-10) closed out the regular season with a 10-9 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks (8-8) and were officially eliminated from playoff contention. This season marks the first time since 2002 that the team missed the playoffs, and it is the first time under Darris Kilgour.
“It was our own doing, so it won’t sit well,” Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour said. “At the same time the boys turned around and battle the last couple of games. I wish I could have done a better job and got win during that six-game losing streak.”
“It was a tough season. We fought towards the end, and just came up a little short against a good team,” Bandits forward and captain John Tavares said. Tavares was questionable heading into the game, and was used strictly on the power play.
“I got injured in Washington last week, and we had a good flow and a good chemistry going, so they coaching staff asked me to play and be on the bench again,” Tavares said of his spot in the lineup.
Kurtis Wagar got the start for the Bandits once again. Regular started Anthony Cosmo was once again sidelined by concussion-like symptoms and served as a back-up to Wagar.
“I thought Wagar played really well and made some big stops. They shot a little better than we did and that was the difference in the game,” Kilgour said.
The Bandits got out to an early lead in the game. Dhane Smith fought his way to the high slot, and was able to rifle a high shot past Matt Vinc to give the Bandits a 1-0 lead 39 seconds in the game. Then, after Mike Accursi was called for goaltender interference, Aaron Wilson scored his first of the game on the power play to put the Bandits up 2-0.
Craig Point was able to get Rochester on the board 1:17 later, beating Wagar and closing the gap to one goal, 2-1. A minute-and-a-half later, Bandits leading scorer Shawn Williams took a feed from Aaron Wilson, walked down the right side, and ripped a shot over Vinc’s shoulder to give the Bandits a 3-1 lead.
Dhane Smith appeared to put the Bandits in control, as he scored a power play goal to put the Bandits up 4-1. That is until the Knighthawks scored the next three goals of the period to tie the game at 4-4 to end the first period. Cody Jameson and Accursi scored their first goals of the game, and Point netted his second.
John Tavares appeared to have a go-ahead in the opening minutes of third, but the goal was called back on a crease violation after the goal was challenged by Rochester.
That allowed the Knighthawks to score three more unanswered goals to complete a six-goal run. Dawson scored two goals and Point scored his third, and the Knighthawks went up 7-4.
The Bandits attempted to come right back. Aaron Wilson scored on the power play to bring the Bandits within two. Then, Shawn Williams brought the team within one when a Dhane Smith shot was saved by Matt Vinc, but the rebound came back out, bounced off the tip of Williams’ stick, and rolled passed a confused Vinc.
The Bandits were never able to get back to a tie game. Every time they got within one, the Knighthawks seemed to have answer to widen the gap once more. After Williams’ goal, Point scored his fourth of the game to put the Knighthawks up 8-6.
After that, Bandits defender Billy Dee Smith scored on an incredible individual effort. He intercepted a pass and charged down the field. He bowled over a Knighthawks defender and cashed in on his opportunity to make the score 8-7.
The third quarter ended with the Knighthawks up 9-7 after Joel McCready netted a goal late in the period. The Knighthawks looked poised to runa way with the game, as Stephen Keogh put his team up 10-7 with 11:44 to go.
The Bandits pushed right back on the back of Mark Steenhuis. Steenhuis drove the net and placed a shot over Vinc’s shoulder to make the score 10-8. Dhane Smith had an opportunity to make it 10-9. After taking a great feed from Tavares on the power play, Smith was stoned by Vinc right in front of the net.
Steenhuis was able to get the Bandits 9th goal with 14.9 seconds left in the game. However, a late opportunity turned into nothing, and the Bandits season ended on the floor of the First Niagara Center in front of a record-setting, sellout crowd of 19.070 fans.
Despite the disappointing result of this season, Kilgour was able to offer an optimistic outlook heading into next season.
“You always expect to play for a championship. With all the turnover, we knew there was going to be some growing pains,” Kilgour said. “We can improve. I think we grew as a team. I would love to coach these guys again.”