The Buffalo Bandits used a five-goal run in the fourth quarter to defeat the Rochester Knighthawks 15-13 at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday.
The win moved the Bandits over .500 for the first time this season at 3-2.
Buffalo trailed 12-10 after being shut out during the third quarter, but coach John Tavares remained confident going into the fourth.
“The message simply was, there’s a lot of game left,” Tavares said. “We’re gonna get our opportunities in the fourth quarter, just bury – and I thought our offense did a good job of capitalizing on any opportunity.”
Buffalo was led in scoring once again by Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith. Byrne had three goals and three assists while Smith continued his puppet mastery en route to another six-assist night. Chris Cloutier followed them with a hat trick and a five-point night.
Six other Bandits had multipoint nights including Tehoka Nanticoke (2+0), Ian MacKay (1+1), Nick Weiss (1+1), Brandon Robinson (1+1), Kyle Buchanan (1+2), and Chase Fraser (2+1). Matt Vinc made 46 saves to become the first NLL goalie to reach 150 career wins.
Rochester was led by a nine-point night by Ryan Smith. He tallied four goals and was one of four Knighthawks with at least five assists on the night. Kyle Waters matched Smith with four goals on his way to a five-point night. Riley Hutchcraft made a career-high 49 saves for the Knighthawks.
There were eight go-ahead goals scored over the course of the game. MacKay described it as a character win and Byrne agreed.
“Those are hard games to mentally stay in it when everything’s going wrong, and they score five in a row,” Byrne said. “It feels like one of those kind of statement wins for us that we really stayed with it, and it definitely builds on our character.”
It was a tale of two halves at Blue Cross Arena. The first quarter was the highest scoring of the Bandits’ season so far, featuring a combined 12 goals, one fight, and two goalie interferences against Buffalo. The Knighthawks ended the quarter with a run of four straight goals – three of which were assisted by Smith – to pull ahead 7-5.
Smith opened the scoring for Rochester in the second quarter, but the Bandits responded with three straight goals to tie the game. First was Brandon Robinson in 4-on-4 play, the product of a pass in the crease from Buchanan. Weiss scored the next one on a fast break and Fraser scored the third into the top-left corner from his favorite spot, up high on the righty side.
The teams exchanged two more goals apiece to end the half tied 10-10. The second half was completely different in terms of scoring but no less physical.
Neither team found the back of the net in the opening nine minutes of the third quarter. Rochester finally pulled ahead with a pair of power-play goals after Cam Wyers was assessed a major penalty for high-sticking and Emerson Clark was called for cross-checking, giving the Knighthawks a two-man advantage.
“Coming into the fourth it was like, ‘Listen, we know as long as we stay out of the box and keep the ball, we’re gonna get great opportunities’ – and we had been all game,” Byrne said.
All fears were relieved for Bandits fans in the fourth. It started with MacKay carrying in transition and looking for a pass to Matt Spanger the entire way. He never found it and instead turned to the net and buried it, cutting the deficit to 12-11 with 11:48 to play.
Fraser scored the tying goal less than four minutes later, followed by a pair of goals from Byrne scored 24 seconds apart to put the Bandits ahead 14-12. Cloutier finished his hat trick with 3:49 remaining.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) January 14, 2024
Here’s more from the win.
Nanticoke scored his 100th-career point in the first quarter. He received a pass in the crease and worked his magic to fake and shoot into the top left corner. Nanticoke was drafted third-overall by Buffalo in 2021. Tavares has coached Nanticoke throughout his NLL career and seen him improve from year to year.
“He’s just carrying over from last year,” Tavares said. “He just finds ways to create opportunities for himself and he quietly gets a couple goals a game. He’s a great player. He’s very creative and a very cerebral player and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The other milestone worked itself out quite poetically. Vinc earned his 150th career win in the same arena he won three straight championships in as a member of the Knighthawks.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) January 14, 2024
MacKay at the dot
MacKay has been in charge of the faceoff dot for the Bandits this season. So far, his goal has not necessarily been to win each faceoff but instead put his team in the best position to win a loose ball.
“I feel like you gotta have a short memory like a goalie,” MacKay said. “I know I’m not going to win many but with that being said, it’s trying to lose the faceoff into situations that are gonna benefit us the most.”
So far MacKay has been consistent at the dot in losing the battle but turning out a good opportunity before the opponent can get their offense going. It isn’t all down to MacKay, Spanger, Steve Priolo, Buchanan, and Weiss also all play a major role as the group on the floor.
“Those guys are hawking it down and doing their job,” MacKay said. “Whether it’s coming in to get loose balls or locking guys off and letting their faceoff guy make decisions.”
Next time out
The Bandits will next return home to take on the New York Riptide for Tucker Out Lymphoma Night on Friday, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m.