The Buffalo Bandits’ second game of the 2019-20 season will see the return of a familiar foe, but with a new name and new uniforms.
The Bandits will host the Halifax Thunderbirds on Saturday at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center for their first game since their 13-10 season-opening win over the San Diego Seals back on Dec. 7.
As the Bandits return to action, they will see familiar faces across from them, but in a new color scheme. The Thunderbirds are the former Rochester Knighthawks, who moved to Nova Scotia in the offseason.
Meanwhile, a new expansion franchise was awarded to Rochester to keep the Knighthawks’ name and likeness in the Flower City.
We know who our hometown heroes are.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 23, 2019
The Thunderbirds are off to a hot start in their new home. Halifax has won both of its inaugural two games to start the season, defeating the New York Riptide 12-4 in the franchise’s first game on Dec. 7, and the Knighthawks 14-12 on Saturday night.
Halifax is led by a couple of names that Bandits’ fans will recognize.
Their head coach is Mike Accursi, the former Bandits star who had four 50-plus-point seasons in Buffalo in the 2000s and was a part of the Bandits’ championship team in 2008. Joining him behind the bench is assistant coach Billy Dee Smith, who was also a member of Buffalo’s 2008 championship team and spent 12 seasons as a standout defender for the Bandits between 2003 and 2014.
The two former Bandits oversee a Halifax roster that is led by leading scorers Ryan Benesch (3+6) and Cody Jamieson (2+7), who each have nine points. Stephen Keogh leads the team with five goals. Goaltender Warren Hill has played all 120 minutes so far for Halifax and has stopped 72 of 88 shots for an .818 save percentage.
Another player to watch for Halifax is former Cornell star Clarke Petterson, who was the fifth-overall pick in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft. The 22-year-old Petterson had 44 goals in each of his last two seasons at Cornell and started his pro career off in style with a hat trick in his first game against Rochester.
The Bandits will be looking to build off their season-opening win over San Diego two weeks ago. Buffalo got an all-around scoring effort in the victory as three players (Dhane Smith, Corey Small, and Chris Cloutier) tallied hat tricks. Smith led the scoring effort with six points (3+3), while Small, Cloutier, and Dallas Bridle each had five-point nights.
The night was especially memorable for Bridle, who tallied his first career goal in the second quarter. After sitting out most of last season with an injury, Bridle is excited to have a regular opportunity in the Bandits’ lineup and was thrilled with how his season got underway.
“It’s an honor just to get the opportunity to play,” Bridle said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better result getting the win and getting that first pro goal out of the way.”
It took a while for the Bandits to get on the scoring track in the game against San Diego as the score was tied at 4 at halftime. The second half was a more open, back-and-forth affair as the Bandits and Seals traded scoring runs. Buffalo maintained a 9-8 advantage heading into the final frame. Forced to kill off a couple of penalties early in the final quarter, the Bandits soon found themselves tied entering the final three minutes of play.
With 2:18 to go, Josh Byrne found the back of the net on a highlight-reel goal that ended up earning him the no. 3 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list that night. Byrne flew through the air above the crease to deposit his shot past San Diego netminder Frank Scigliano.
Smith then sealed the win with two goals in the final 1:52. Meanwhile, Bandits’ goaltender Matt Vinc made three huge saves consecutively during the final minute to thwart a potential Seals’ comeback. On the night, Vinc stopped 49 of 59 shots.
The Bandits are looking for offensive contributions from a variety of scorers up and down the lineup, which is exactly what they got against San Diego. The Bandits know that collective scoring output will be essential for them if they wish to make another deep playoff run this season.
“What’s important for us is to be an unpredictable offense,” Small said. “Sometimes we just draw up plays and you’re fortunate enough to be the guy open on the back end. If we’re spreading the ball around and we’ve got a few guys chipping in with multiple goal games, it’s going to be good for us on offense.”
The Bandits went 2-1 in three games against their opponent, last facing them on Feb. 22 in Rochester and earning a 16-9 victory.
Bridle is excited to get back out on the floor after a two-week layoff, but knows the Bandits are in for a tough challenge from a talented Halifax team.
“It’s going to be a big test,” Bridle said. “It’s going to be a tough match-up. Obviously, we had a two-week stretch where we had no games. We’re not playing catch up, but we’re kind of a little behind the eight ball. But we’ve got a good group in there and we’re up to the test. We’re going to put on a show for these fans and we’re going to give everything we’ve got on the floor and I like our odds going into it, no matter what.”
The Bandits and Thunderbirds will face off at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Tickets are on sale now. The game will be available to stream on B/R Live. Fans can also tune in to the radio broadcast on ESPN 1520.