By Joe Ray – Bandits.com
At the conclusion of what has been a roller coaster of a season for the Buffalo Bandits, an offensive outburst was not enough to keep up with the Rochester Knighthawks. Buffalo dropped a 16-14 contest on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 19,070 at First Niagara Center.
Cody Jamieson led the way offensively for the Knighthawks with two goals and eight assists. Dan Dawson added a goal and six assists, and Craig Point and Stephen Keogh each chipped in with three goals and two assists.
On the Buffalo side, Mark Steenhuis picked up four goals and three assists, while Ryan Benesch contributed three goals and six assists. Joel Matthews scored the first two goals of his NLL career in the loss.
After scoring just ten goals over their last two meetings with the Knighthawks, the Bandits finally found a couple of ways to beat Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc. But other parts of their game languished, and the team now closes the regular season at 8-10.
“Our offense came to play, and they wanted to prove people wrong, and our defense didn’t show up,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “That’s tough. It’s a tough one, but if we get the pieces together here, we’re gonna be a dangerous team. We can’t dwell on it because that’s it, it’s over. Eight-game losing streak, that’s over. Everybody’s at zero and zero now, we move on.”
“It was just a matter of sticking to the gameplan and taking shots that we should be taking, not forcing ones from the outside,” added Benesch. “[Against] a goalie like Matt Vinc, you can’t shoot from the outside because he’s going to stop nine out of ten of them, and you’re not gonna have success. I thought we played well on O, we could have played better, but hopefully we can keep that rolling into next week.”
On Fan Appreciation Night, the Bandits packed First Niagara Center to capacity. Despite entering the game on a seven-game losing streak, Bandits fans came out roaring and supporting their team through a rough patch.
“It was the game we wanted, it was the atmosphere we wanted,” Steenhuis said. Any time we get to play in our building, it seems like a tremendous advantage to us. Deep down, all of us in that room really wanted to do it for the fans, to get a home playoff game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
The Bandits certainly did not start the game the way they had hoped to. With four goals in the first five minutes, the Knighthawks rattled goaltender Anthony Cosmo and set the tone for the game. Joe Walters opened the scoring, and Jamieson, Cory Vitarelli, and Point opened up a sizable lead on the road.
A couple of power play chances were all the Bandits needed to get on the board. John Tavares scored at the 8:08 mark, and then Joe Resetarits scored off a pretty passing play to cut the Knighthawks lead in half just 1:18 later.
Not even one minute passed before Rochester reestablished their lead, as Keogh chipped in his first two goals of the game. With 4:37 to play in the quarter, Cordingley decided to pull Cosmo in favor of Kurtis Wagar after Cosmo surrendered six goals on ten shots.
Buffalo certainly gained the momentum they needed with the goaltending shift. Shawn Williams scored just 21 seconds after the last Rochester goal. It took a minute more for Matthews to bury the first goal of his NLL career, and the Bandits had narrowed the deficit to two once again heading out of a frenetic first quarter.
The Bandits kept that energy going and came out in the second quarter ready to keep rolling as Cosmo reentered the game. The Bandits’ stalwart goaltender came back out and limited the Knighthawks to four goals on 16 second-period shots.
“He was fine,” Cordingley said about Cosmo’s confidence level going back in. “He was more disappointed in his performance. [Cosmo] is a true pro, he came in and played well, but obviously he can play a lot better than that. I’m not sticking that on him, by no means.”
After Keogh ran through Cosmo on a breakaway attempt and was called for goaltender inference, Steeenhuis picked up his first goal of the game on the ensuing power play. Resetarits added his second of the night off a pair of crisp passes from Williams and Benesch at the 4:48 mark to tie the game at six goals apiece.
Lacrosse truly is a game of runs, and each team scored three consecutive goals to push the score to 9-9. Craig Point, Brad Self, and Keogh scored to push Rochester in front with six minutes left in the half. However, Buffalo stood resolute and Matthews, Steenhuis, and Dhane Smith scored in a window of 3:14 to knot the score up again.
After Sid Smith gave Rochester a 10-9 lead at halftime, Buffalo was able to knot the game up once again with a power play goal from Benesch to start the quarter. However, Rochester’s Johnny Powless was able to beat the Buffalo defense for two straight goals to once again give Rochester the lead.
A couple of nifty passes drew Vinc out of position for Steenhuis to complete his hat trick with about three minutes left in the third. The Bandits were in range to take control of the game headed into the final quarter, but things took a turn for the worse.
With Point off for holding, Dan Dawson and Mike Kirk scored shorthanded goals just 52 seconds apart. That pushed the Rochester lead back to three, and Buffalo would never recover from that deficit.
“There’s always shifts in momentum,” Steenhuis said. “I think in this drought that we’re in, we’re kind of starting to learn how to come out of these slumps. We came back from four goals twice in this game, and then at the end just fell short.”
Jamieson scored the eventual game-winner with a delayed Buffalo penalty on the board and that pushed the Rochester lead to 15-11. Point completed his hat trick with about six minutes to play in order to give the Knighthawks their biggest lead of the game.
Steenhuis picked up his fourth of the game to put Buffalo back on track at the 11:02 mark to start the late Buffalo run. Benesch picked up two more goals to bring Buffalo back to within two with 2:14 to play in regulation time.
With the Toronto Rock picking up an 8-6 road win against the Minnesota Swarm, Toronto takes over second place in the NLL East from the Bandits. Buffalo will presumably be traveling to the Air Canada Centre for a first-round playoff matchup on next Saturday, May 3.