The Buffalo Bandits improved to 3-0 after an emotional 12-6 win over the Toronto Rock on Saturday at KeyBank Center.
Before the game, former Bandit Shawn Williams addressed the team in the locker room. The organization hosted the eighth annual Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, which celebrates the life of Williams’ son Tucker, who died from Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 2014 at the age of 8.
Bandits head coach John Tavares, who played with Williams, said the speech gave the team extra momentum.
“How do you not go out there and give it your all after hearing about how special Tucker was?” Tavares said. “He didn’t get the opportunity to play the game he loved, but these guys get to do exactly that by playing professional lacrosse… How do you not go out there and play your absolute hardest?”
Buffalo hadn’t been in action since December 11 – a span of 28 days due to scheduled bye weeks – but the team barely showed any signs of rust.
The Bandits led 3-0 after the first quarter. Josh Byrne scored the first two goals of the game to begin his second seven-point effort of the season. He finished the night with four goals and three assists, earning First Star honors.
Other big performers for the Bandits included Chris Cloutier (1+6), Dhane Smith (1+5) and Chase Fraser (4+0).
Smith recorded the 700th point of his career when he scored early in the third quarter on a delayed penalty. Byrne registered his 100th career assist on the play.
Matt Vinc, who continued to be reliable between the pipes with 45 saves and an .882 save percentage, credited extra film study and mental preparation in helping him stay sharp over the long break.
“Mentally, you struggle thinking that because you haven’t played in a month, you try to do everything possible to mimic game reps,” he said. “Throughout these three games, our defense has done a great job giving me great opportunities to feel comfortable and limit high percentage scoring chances.”
Toronto rallied back in the second quarter, scoring three times in 2:23 to tie the game 4-4 with 1:11 remaining in the first half. Buffalo would go to the locker room up 5-4 after Ian MacKay scored with 52 seconds left to ensure that that Bandits would never trail in the game.
Buffalo opened the second half on a 3-0 run that included both a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal by Byrne.
Byrne’s shorthanded goal (scored while the team was killing a major penalty served by rookie Tehoka Nanticoke) made it 8-4 with 5:37 left in the third quarter. It was the third shorty of Byrne’s career.
“They were pressing all game, but once I saw them overcommit on that possession, I decided to take it to the rack,” Byrne said.
The Bandits outscored the Rock 4-2 the rest of the way.
“Scoring a shorthand goal at any point is huge, but when you add that it was a five-minute penalty makes it even bigger,” Fraser said. “It took the wind out of their sails and gave us even more confidence to finish out the game.”
Both teams also played with an edge and it led to a slew of penalties in the second half.
Chaos ensued with 5:38 to go as a line brawl broke out near the Rock net in the corner, a confrontation that had been percolating all night long. While the officials worked to figure out the penalties, they told the crowd to “talk amongst yourselves while we sort this out.” Five players ended up going to the box for a total of 10 penalty minutes.
“Shawn came into our locker room before the game and said how much Tucker loved his teammates,” Byrne said. “I think when I saw Chase kinda getting jumped there, I think we all had a piece of Tucker with us to fight for one another.”
The second fight of the quarter didn’t involve a pile of players and referees. Instead, Toronto’s Billy Hostrawser instigated Jordan Stouros into a fight in front of the Bandits net with 12 seconds left, resulting in a game misconduct for Hostrawser.
Tavares used Stouros’ decision to challenge a well-known fighter in Hostrawser as an example of standing up for yourself and your teammates. Stouros was named the Heavyweight Player of the Game by his teammates.
And before the whistle blew to resume play, Brent Noseworthy body slammed Rock defenseman Sheldon Burns to the turf, which put Banditland in a frenzy to end the night until the final horn sounded.
“At the end of the day, it’s a division game, and it always feels good to beat Toronto,” Byrne said smiling.
The Bandits now will shift their focus to the Georgia Swarm, who will make their way up to Western New York for a game next weekend. Saturday’s game is set to start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.