Lacrosse is a 60-minute game, but a stretch of 15 minutes proved costly for the Buffalo Bandits against the Halifax Thunderbirds on Saturday night.
Halifax outscored Buffalo, 6-0, in the second quarter to cruise to a 15-10 victory at KeyBank Center.
The Thunderbirds scored on six of their 14 shots in the second to take control of the game. Things got away from Buffalo quickly as Halifax tallied three times before five minutes had elapsed in the quarter. It might have been worse if not for a replay review that took a seventh goal off the board for Halifax.
After Halifax scored its sixth goal of the quarter, Bandits head coach John Tavares pulled starting netminder Matt Vinc in favor of Doug Buchan. Vinc would return for the start of the second half but exited after Halifax moved out to a 12-4 lead in the third quarter.
The Thunderbirds enjoyed a 9-0 run in the second and third quarters that proved to be the difference in the game.
“I didn’t think it was as bad as the score indicated, I just didn’t think we shot the ball fairly well,” Tavares said after the game. “I think [Halifax] had a great game. They shot the ball really well. They’ve got a great offense. We knew that coming in. They capitalized on pretty much all their opportunities.”
The Bandits, playing for the first time in two weeks, fell to 1-1, while the Thunderbirds improved to 3-0 in their inaugural season in Halifax after the franchise moved from Rochester in the offseason.
The star of the game was Halifax’s Mike Burke, who had eight points on the night (2+6). Ryan Benesch chipped in with a six-point night (3+3), while Cody Jamieson also tallied a hat trick. For Buffalo, Josh Byrne led the Bandits on the scoresheet with a hat trick of his own, as well as two assists. Dhane Smith also enjoyed a five-point night (2+3). Chris Cloutier had two goals and two assists.
The Bandits started the game out quickly as they were awarded a power play just 2:44 in. Byrne cashed in quickly as he ripped a shot past Warren Hill eight seconds into the power play to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead. It didn’t take long for the Bandits to double their lead as Smith took a pass from Byrne and scored just 27 seconds later.
The tide turned quickly for the Bandits in the seventh minute of the game. Halifax cut into the Buffalo lead with 7:42 remaining in the quarter as Jamieson buried a shot past Vinc. Just 40 seconds later, Eric Fannell score to tie the game at 2.
Matt Gilray was then sent off to the penalty box for crosschecking with 6:34 left in the quarter. With 10 seconds left in the power play, Clarke Petterson, Halifax’s rookie phenom, scored to give the Thunderbirds the lead for the first time in the game.
Halifax added to their lead when Jamieson scored his second of the night with 3:05 left in the quarter. Jamieson got some assistance on the play from an official who found himself in Bryce Sweeting’s way as Sweeting chased Jamieson behind the net. This allowed Jamieson to come free all alone in front to shoot.
The Bandits found their spark when Ian MacKay came in all alone on a breakaway after receiving a long lead pass from Matt Spanger and beat Hill to make it a one-goal game with 1:54 left in the quarter. Another defensive breakdown by Halifax allowed Nick Weiss to make a long run for the tying goal just 32 seconds later.
As the second quarter got underway, the game quickly swung in Halifax’s favor.
Halifax moved in front to open the quarter as Burke scored 1:08 in. Twenty seconds later, Burke scored again to give Halifax a two-goal lead. Things got worse for Buffalo just over three minutes later as Austin Shanks scored on a shot that just trickled past Vinc and over the goal line.
With just over seven minutes left in the quarter, the Bandits caught a break as a Halifax goal was taken off the board after Tavares challenged for a crease violation. But they couldn’t take advantage of their good fortune and compounded their problems by taking two penalties 33 seconds apart with under four minutes to play in the half. With Mitch de Snoo and Jon Harnett both in the box for separate cross check penalties, Benesch struck twice for two power play goals 38 seconds apart. Just 17 seconds after the two power-play goals, Jamieson scored his second goal of the night to give Halifax a 10-4 lead.
Smith thought the game got away from the Bandits in the second quarter largely because the difference in shooting. Halifax scored six times on 15 shots, while Buffalo was shut out on 10 shot attempts in the quarter.
“Our offense wasn’t burying the ball,” Smith said. “I can count four opportunities that I remember where they made a save or we missed the net and they went back and scored right away. And that’s killer for our whole team.”
Down by six goals, Tavares made the goaltender change to try and spark the Bandits.
At the start of the second half, Tavares decided to go back to Vinc behind the pipes. But he wouldn’t be out there for long as Benesch completed the hat trick with his sixth point of the night. Twelve seconds later, Graeme Hossack scored to put Halifax up 12-4. At that point, Tavares decided to turn to Buchan for the remainder of the night.
Kyle Jackson got in on the goal-scoring party for Halifax at 7:17, the Thunderbirds’ ninth consecutive goal. The Halifax scoring run finally ended a short time later as the Bandits were awarded a power play with 5:56 left in the quarter and found the back of the net for the first time since the first quarter. Cloutier scored 10 seconds into the power play to break the goalscoring drought.
The KeyBank Center crowd was loudest with 1:22 left in the third quarter when de Snoo put a big hit on Colton Armstrong, followed by a slash and a punch of Armstrong. A scrum ensued that saw MacKay fight Armstrong, much to the delight of the Buffalo crowd.
MacKay said the Bandits weren’t necessarily expecting a chippy game, but they were ready to show some fight to try and give the building a spark.
“I don’t think you ever go into a game looking for it to be chippy,” MacKay said. “Lacrosse is obviously a rough sport. When they started to get ahead on us, I think naturally it gets a little chippy. Whatever you have to do to get the team going and spark the team and get any kind of momentum., you try to do whatever you can for your team.”