Throughout the season, the Buffalo Bandits have proven that they have the ability to win in many different ways. They’ve blown out the opposition with their offensive prowess and they’ve shown resiliency to mount a comeback late in games.
In their second meeting with the Rochester Knighthawks this season Saturday night at KeyBank Center, Buffalo displayed the composure required to hold a lead.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bandits captured the momentum with three goals holding the Knighthawks scoreless for a 10-4 lead in the third quarter.
In the final quarter, Rochester matched the Bandits streak of four unanswered goals, chipping away at the Bandits lead to make it a 10-8 game.
With the energy sucked out of the home crowd at KeyBank Center, Josh Byrne stopped the bleeding, scoring Buffalo’s lone goal in the final frame with 4:15 left that would be the dagger for Rochester.
Dhane Smith led the way yet again for the Bandits, with four goals and three assists.
With the 11-8 victory, Buffalo improves to 6-0 for the first time since 1996.
“Being 6-0 is great, but we are going to go through rough patches,” Smith said. “It’s just challenging to play at this level all the time, and these past two games were kind of our wake-up call. Coming out with the wins are great, but they were great lessons for us.”
Smith is now fifth in the NLL in points with 42 and third in assists with 29.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) February 6, 2022
He was the game’s First Star and was named the Player of the Game by his teammates. He sported some new jewelry – an oversized Bandits necklace – after the game.
“This is Tehoka [Nanticoke’s] medallion,” he said. “It was given to me for Player of the Game. I’m very honored to wear it because it means a lot to him, so it means a lot to the whole team.”
Kyle Buchanan returned from the COVID reserve list and scored the first goal in each half of the game, along with two assists. Fellow forwards Nanticoke (1+3), Chris Cloutier (1+2), and Byrne (2+1) also had strong contributions in the win.
Matt Vinc made 38 saves and earned his NLL-leading sixth win.
“I think the mentality in the locker room is that we are going to split the season into thirds, and we are 0-0 going forward,” captain Steve Priolo said. “That’s a mentality we have to have going forward.”
The Knighthawks had to make 11 roster moves on Saturday due to COVID protocols. Six players were placed on the COVID list, and leading scorer Holden Cattoni was activated from injured reserve after missing their last game. Buffalo held Cattoni to just two points.
Curtis Knight continued to perform well against the Bandits. The veteran scored a team-high six points and recorded his second hat trick of the season against Buffalo.
Shawn Evans netted the 450th goal of his 16-year NLL career in the second quarter. Goalie Rylan Hartley made his first career start against Buffalo, settling in nicely and making a career-high 48 saves.
Buffalo’s offense got out to a commanding 5-1 lead in the first quarter.
Buchanan collected a rebound off the back wall and converted a beautiful behind-the-net dunk that had the home crowd buzzing.
Kyle Buchanan with the one-handed-behind-the-net dunk we're ALL here to see….
— NLL (@NLL) February 6, 2022
Cloutier connected before Smith rattled off three goals in a row, finalizing the hat trick just 12:44 into the game.
“That’s what we want. As a coaching staff we keep telling them to attack by committee,” head coach John Tavares said. “It’s much easier to defend just one or two guys, but you saw tonight when the offense is playing like that, they are tough to stop.”
Rochester coach Mike Hasen made necessary adjustments late in the second after Nanticoke and Fraser’s goals made it a 7-2 game. Evans’ back-to-back goals, including their first power-play goal of the night, made the comeback more feasible heading into halftime, as Rochester was down only three.
The Bandits already scored two goals top open the second half before the craziest sequence of the night, as Connor Fields darted to the crease and appeared to score his 13th goal of the season.
A 5-on-5 scrum broke loose after Fields was cross-checked from behind by Knighthawks defender Ryland Rees, resulting in Fields colliding with Hartley in net. Five penalties were awarded, including roughing calls on Chase Fraser and Cloutier for body slamming a Rochester player.
Tavares, along with Banditland, was livid at the referees as the goal was taken away for goalie interference even though Fields made contact with Hartley after the ball crossed the goal line.
Nevertheless, Smith ignited the crowd with a shorthanded goal 23 seconds later for their third goal of the quarter, stretching the lead to six.
Rochester responded in the fourth with Knight and Evans leading the rally. Three unanswered Buffalo goals were answered by four in a row for the Knighthawks in the first 8:28 of the final frame.
Knighthawks fans who made the trip west on the I-90 made their voices heard until Byrne’s goal sealed the deal to increase Rochester’s losing streak to four.
Buffalo will go back on the road to play the Toronto Rock for the second game between the two clubs this season. Toronto (4-3), has won back-to-back games. Buffalo won their first meeting of the season 12-6 on January 8.
In his postgame availability, coach John Tavares jokingly said that facing Toronto on the road will be even more daunting of a task because the team has yet to play outside of New York State this season.
The game will be played in front of no fans at FirstOntartio Centre in Hamilton on Saturday, February 12 with faceoff scheduled for 5 p.m.