The Buffalo Bandits will travel to Blue Cross Arena to take on the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the first of two meetings between the two teams this season.
The Bandits sit at 2-2 in the 2023-24 campaign after defeating the Colorado Mammoth 12-8 last Saturday inside KeyBank Center. Buffalo scored the first six goals of the game and went into halftime up 7-1 en route to the win. Goaltender Matt Vinc put together his best performance of the season with 49 saves, including 28 stops in the first half.
Saturday marks the seventh all-time meeting between Buffalo and Rochester, with the Bandits holding a 6-1 advantage in the all-time series. Despite the Bandits’ edge in the series, defenseman Nick Weiss stressed that the team has to be ready for a battle.
“Rochester it seems – year after year – they keep finding a way to get better,” Weiss said. “When it was the East and West, they kept closing the gap in the East. … There’s no easy games in this league anymore, so we know it’s gonna be a tight battle.”
Since the shortened 2020 season, Buffalo is 5-1 in the regular season against Rochester after recording its first loss against the 2019 expansion franchise last season. The two teams split the regular-season series in 2022-23 before the Bandits defeated Rochester 20-8 in postseason play to kick off their championship run.
“Last year was kind of the perfect storm. We were hitting our stride at the right moment, and we caught them on maybe not their best night, and we were just more prepared,” Weiss said. “Going into this one, it’s kind of the same deal. We just have to continue from last game, continue building on our games and just try to get after them real early.”
A win against Rochester would put the Bandits over .500 for the first time this season. Faceoff is at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN+ and CW23. Radio coverage can be found on 1520 WWKB.
Here’s everything you need to know before the game.
Dhane and Josh
Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne have combined for 54 points so far this season. The duo currently ranks fourth in the league for points between two players, as each duo above them has played an extra game. Fellow forward Tehoka Nanticoke has seen their production firsthand.
“Those two having 27 points apiece is unreal,” Nanticoke said. “Dhane having three goals – that just shows how great Dhane is with the ball in his stick. He’s finding everybody that’s open. We are capitalizing when those two get the rock swinging. When Byrnzy is firing on all cylinders, it’s a game changer for our whole team.”
If the pair continues at its current pace, Byrne can break his single-season point record by 22 points while Dhane’s 121 points would mark his fourth-best season as a Bandit.
The drive down the I-90 is one Buffalo fans haven’t been shy to make in years past. Since 2018, the Rochester versus Buffalo matchup at Blue Cross Arena has seen the highest attendance of the season as Bandits fans pack the stands with orange and black.
“Banditland travels so well and especially to Rochester, just being an hour away. It’s incredible the fanbase we have,” Weiss said. “When we go there, if Rochester tries to start a team chant, usually the Bandit fans drown it out pretty quick. It’s almost another home game for us.
Nanticoke’s first time playing inside Blue Cross Arena was in 2022, which he said was a top-five game for him as a Bandit.
“Just seeing Banditland travel like that, it fires us up,” Nanticoke said. “Getting to go an hour and 20 minutes down the thruway and seeing the support we have in Banditland just traveling. … Hearing the crowd roar over their introductions, it was unreal.”
Scouting the Knighthawks
The Knighthawks are 3-1 so far this season, with their only loss coming to San Diego on the road.
Former Bandit Connor Fields (27 points) and forward Ryan Smith (23 points) lead Rochester in scoring, combining for 50 points in the campaign.
“Fieldsy was a great teammate and a great guy, would’ve loved to have been able to keep him,” Weiss said. “He definitely – especially as a righty defender – makes my job a lot harder having to defend him. But yeah, we do kind of know a bit of his tendencies so I can’t say it makes it any easier, but we kind of know what to expect.”
Thomas McConvey, who was the No. 1-overall pick in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft, is averaging three points per game while Ryan Lanchbury, who was the second-overall selection in 2021, has tallied 16 points (6+10) in his three games played for Rochester.
Knighthawks goaltender Rylan Hartley has dealt with an injury early this season and Riley Hutchcraft has been his replacement. Hutchcraft has posted 123 saves and a 2-1 record in 188:01 of action.