By Alex Beilman - Bandits.com
Despite holding a lead for large portions of the game, the Buffalo Bandits were unable to hold off a fourth-quarter push by the Toronto Rock, and fell by a score of 19-15 in the final game of the year. A strong offensive effort was undone by untimely penalties and some key sharpshooting from Toronto’s top men at KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
With two assists, Mark Steenhuis hit the 1,000-point plateau for his career. Both assists came in the third quarter and as he registered Point No. 1,000 with just six seconds remaining in the frame, he was able to soak in the moment during the break between quarters with the crowd and his teammates.
“Some of the boys were pulling hard for me to get it. It took some time, but it was a breath of fresh air to get it out of the way,” Steenhuis said. “I thought maybe [someone] was going to forget it about, maybe the refs weren’t going to give me one of the assists.
“It was nice to share it with the boys and with the people in this building. I love [Buffalo]. It’s really my second home and I want to finish my career hear. I’ve been treated so well. It’s been cool and to have something like that happen at home is pretty cool.”
Steenhuis became the ninth player in NLL history to record 1,000 points. Shawn Evans hit the mark last week for New England. Steenhuis has spent 14 of his 15 NLL seasons in Buffalo, and now has 970 career points in a Bandits uniform. He ranks second all-time for the franchise in goals, assists and points, loose balls and games played.
“It was incredible. We talked as an offense and we let it be known that we wanted Mark to get those two points. To see what he’s done in this game is a testament to his character,” forward Ryan Benesch said. “I’m happy. I am proud as you could be for him. I love the guy. He’s a great teammate and a great friend.”
Buffalo finishes the season 6-12 and without a postseason berth for the first time in four years.
“The effort was there for most of the game. We can have more effort I believe,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “Achilles’ heel: Discipline, taking bad penalties at bad times. Their transition was much better than ours. That’s the name of the game.”
“A couple penalties by us and just not answering. I thought we answered for three quarters. We did a good job with that,” Steenhuis said. “We just kind of came up short in the fourth quarter. It was a good valuable lesson for everyone. We have to soak this in for the whole offseason. It’s not going to feel nice, but, for all of us, it’s going to be huge motivation.”
Benesch was on the goal scoring end of Steenhuis’ 1,000th point, and added a total of eight points (4+4). Forward Pat Saunders also helped to spur the offense with a five-point (4+1) night, and Mitch Jones continued his development up front, tallying two goals and three assists.
Brett Hickey was the main man for the Rock, tallying a 10-point night (5+5) to lead all players on the night.
Anthony Cosmo took the loss for Buffalo, as he played the full 60 minutes. Toronto starter Nick Rose was chased from the goal after Ryan Benesch’s second of the evening gave the Bandits an 8-5 lead at the 4:45 mark of the second quarter.
It was backup Brandon Miller who came in to mop up for Toronto and ended up earning the win through some timely saves and a strong offensive push from the Rock.
“I think Miller came in and he was real good off the bench. We eventually did get at him, but he closed the door again,” Cordingley said. “He’s been a premier goalie in this league and I believe he still is. He came and did his job.”
“A new goalie comes in and you kind of have to readjust,” Saunders said. “Rose is a blocker, Miller is more of a movement goalie. He’s a veteran goalie and he’s been a top goalie in the league. I think we played into their game. When we got into that run-and-gun game, and it didn’t end well for us.”
The game was a see-saw battle from the start. The two sides traded the first six goals, three aside, to open the game. Buffalo was finally able to break open a run, scoring three unanswered goals through Craig England, Saunders and Jones.
Jesse Gamble and Kieran McArdle got the visitors back within one in the second quarter, but another three-goal run by the Bandits put some distance between the sides as halftime approached. At least it appeared that way, until Hickey racked up a natural hat trick in just over three-and-a-half minutes of game play. The teams would head to half with Buffalo leading 9-8.
The teams continued a hotly contested battle in the third. Saunders opened a two-goal lead for Buffalo 4:31 into the second half. However, Reid Reinholdt and McArdle found a couple quick goals to level the game at 10-10.
Anthony Malcom got his team back in the lead with a shorthanded tally, until Tom Scheiber (3+3) scored on the same power play to tie the game at 11-11.
A hat trick goal from Latrell Harris would give Toronto their first lead of the night, putting the guests in front 12-11 at the 13:09 mark of the third quarter.
Another three-goal Buffalo run, highlighted by Steenhuis’ milestone assists, put the Bandits up 14-12 heading into the final stanza.
However, it seemed that the Rock found out results around the league broke in their favor, and a win would seal home-field advantage for the side in the first round of the playoffs. The Bandits were shut out in the final frame, and Toronto rattled off seven unanswered goals to leave Buffalo with a win.
With that, the team does expect some changes to happen, but do not where those might come at this time. For now, everyone is focused on coming back next year and getting off to a better start come 2018.
“You have no idea. The offseason is the offseason. Nobody’s safe. I might not be here next year, who knows,” Benesch said. “The way we played this season, I don’t think anyone’s safe. It’s up to us to come ready, to be focused, stay in shape, keep our bodies healthy and come ready to battle in training camp.”
“It’s a cutthroat business. You find that out early in this league. After a season like this, they’re looking for changes. Management is going to sit down and assess things,” Steenhuis said. “As players we’re obviously not happy. We have too good of an organization, too good of a fanbase, to have a record like this.”
“Who knows what will happen. I am sure that there’s changes to come. Our job is to take care of our bodies, take care of ourselves and get our minds right and come back as best we can.”