The Buffalo Bandits outlasted the Rochester Knighthawks at KeyBank Center on Saturday to defeat the Knighthawks by a score of 15-14.
Buffalo led by five goals midway through the second quarter, but Rochester fought back, using a four-goal run in the fourth to come within one with 4:19 remaining.
The Knighthawks’ comeback ultimately fell short as the Bandits held on to win their second consecutive game and improved to 5-3 on the season.
“I think we need to learn to close out our games a little better. That’s two in a row and teams see that,” coach John Tavares said. “It gives them confidence, makes them believe they can win. The next team coming in – if you’re up three or four – they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re not out of it.’”
The Bandits saw all but four players tally at least a point in the win. They were led by Josh Byrne, who leads the NLL with 54 points this season after recording a seven-point performance (3+4). Dhane Smith (2+4), Chris Cloutier (3+3), and Chase Fraser (2+4) each posted six points while Kyle Buchanan had his first hat trick of the season en route to a four-point night. Goaltender Matt Vinc totaled 50 saves in the win as well as an assist.
Rochester was led by Ryan Smith, who recorded a career-high 11 points (5+6), followed by former Bandit Connor Fields with nine (4+5). Riley Hutchcraft played 58:57 in net for the Knighthawks and posted 41 saves.
Rochester was first on the board in the opening quarter as Ryan Smith drove to the crease and found the top-right corner to beat Vinc. Buffalo took it personally, scoring the next four goals to close out the first with a 4-1 lead.
“It starts with guys like Cloutier, BRob, Frasey, and Bucky. Those guys are absolutely buzzing through the middle,” Byrne said. “Especially Cloutier lately, [he’s] just been dropping the shoulder and running through guys and that’s a really tough thing for a defense to deal with and when he’s doing that stuff, he’s getting himself open a lot as well.”
Cloutier and Fraser were at the center of the Bandits’ success in the first quarter, combining for a total of five points in the opening frame. After Fraser opened the scoring for Buffalo, Cloutier made a behind-the-back pass to Smith to pick up his first assist of the night before shooting through his legs for his first goal.
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Rochester fought back in the second as Fields notched the first two Knighthawks goals of the quarter, with a Buffalo breakaway goal for Nick Weiss in between. Following Fields’ second goal, the Bandits responded with a three-goal run from Buchanan, Dalton Sulver, and Cloutier. Rochester scored twice in the final 1:20 of the half to close the gap to 8-5 at halftime.
The Bandits continued to fight for their three-goal cushion in the third. For every Rochester goal, Buffalo had the answer. Byrne stretched the lead to 11-7 on back-to-back goals from the top of the key with five minutes to go in the third. Ryan Smith and Fraser exchanged tallies to close out the quarter with the Bandits up 12-8.
Rochester’s four-goal run in the final frame made it a one-goal game for the first time since the opening quarter. The Knighthawks received tallies from Ryan Smith, Fields, Kyle Waters, and Lanchbury in the final 10 minutes of the game but it was Cloutier who finished his hat trick for the Bandits in emphatic fashion with the game winner on the crease.
Dan Lomas brought Rochester within one once again with 1:12 to go but Buffalo would never relinquish its lead.
Here’s more from the win.
The hometown debut
The Buffalo Bandits entered Saturday with a decision to make. Who would fill the place of Tehoka Nanticoke, who was placed on injured reserve? Tavares looked to Christian Watts, the East Aurora native, who earned his first chance to take the floor for his hometown team.
Watts is not only an athlete from Western New York, he developed his box game with the Bandits in the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. He worked with many Bandits players as his coaches during that time including Byrne, Smith, Cloutier and Ian MacKay.
He tallied his first career point on a secondary assist for Buffalo’s first goal of the game. Byrne was Watts’ coach two years ago with the Rapids. Now as teammates, Byrne credits the system of the Bandits for the ease of transition to the professional game.
“A lot of the things we do and teach in that college box league are direct things that we do with the Bandits,” Byrne said. “I think that really set him up to be successful because he was seeing the patterns and seeing the plays we do. It made it a lot more seamless for him to jump in and he’s an unreal kid. Super humble and we say he’s a golden retriever.”
Vinc passed Brodie Merrill for third all-time in NLL appearances. With 277 appearances, he now sits behind just Tavares and Dan Dawson.
Smith became the 14th player in the NLL to ever to reach 1,000 points. He recorded his 1000th point while assisting Cloutier’s second-quarter goal.
“Dhane’s a great player and I thought he had a great game,” Tavares said. “For me personally, I always hated milestones so it’s always something you want to get out of the way. I’m happy for him that he can get his 1000 and not think about it and just move on.”