By Jeff Baker - Bandits.com
Buffalo Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley warned that the Colorado Mammoth would have plenty of momentum for Saturday’s matchup despite their late flight home to Denver after Friday night’s game in Georgia.
His concern proved to be warranted. Seldom-used goaltender Steve Fryer made the most of his first-ever NLL start and a strong first half helped the Mammoth (7-3) survive a late scare against the Bandits (6-5) with an 8-7 defensive battle win in front of a crowd of 16,062 at Pepsi Center.
Fryer, who entered the game having only played six and a half minutes all year, made 45 saves in place of starter Dillon Ward for his first career win. The journeyman netminder, in and out of the league since his rookie season in 2012, stood tall in the final minutes to hold off Buffalo’s fourth-quarter surge.
Colorado spoiled the return of Bandits goaltender Alex Buque, who was solid with 37 stops in his first game back in town since being traded to Buffalo in the offseason. The Mammoth also stymied the debut of Buffalo’s newly-added star forward Shawn Evans. Acquired in a blockbuster deal with the New England Black Wolves for Callum Crawford earlier this week, Evans was held to just one assist.
Former Bandits star Ryan Benesch, acquired in the trade that sent Buque and Crawford to Buffalo, made his mark for the Mammoth with four points (2+2). Chris Wardle added a pair of goals, Jacob Ruest registered five points (1+4), and Jeremy Noble finished with a team-high six points (1+5).
Dhane Smith led Buffalo with five points (3+2) on the team’s seven goals, rookie Josh Byrne posted four points (1+3), Mitch Jones recorded two points (1+1) and Vaughn Harris had two assists as the only four Bandits with multi-point outings.
For the second-straight week, the Bandits were competitive to begin the game as goals from Byrne and Smith gave them a 2-1 lead after the first quarter. But Colorado went on a four-goal run to go up 5-2 at halftime as Buffalo was held scoreless in the second quarter.
The Mammoth scored in the first minute of the second half to extend the lead to four but the Bandits quickly replied as Jordan Durston scored a beautiful behind-the-back goal before Nick Weiss converted in transition to make it 6-4.
Colorado regained its four-goal advantage with a pair of goals to close out the third quarter. Neither team could find the net in the first half of the final frame as the Mammoth packed it in to try and protect their lead.
Fatigue from Friday’s last-second 11-10 victory over the Swarm seemed to set in for Colorado late in regulation. Buffalo fought back as Smith scored his second of the night to pull the Bandits within 8-5 midway through the fourth quarter, Mitch Jones cut the margin to two with 4:57 left, and Smith’s hat trick goal with 3:40 on the clock suddenly had Buffalo down by just one.
After calling a timeout with 52 seconds remaining, the Bandits were unable to get the equalizer with the goalie pulled and an extra attacker on the turf. The Mammoth eventually played keep away in their offensive zone before turning the ball over deep in Buffalo territory with one second left, but it wasn’t enough time for the Bandits to create a scoring chance as a hail mary throw from their own zone didn’t connect.
The Bandits will use an upcoming bye to troubleshoot recent woes before returning to action with a back-to-back weekend, first at home on Friday, March 16 against the Saskatchewan Rush before visiting the Georgia Swarm on Sunday, March 18.