Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.
And wow did it on Saturday night in Western New York. Even inside, when the Bandits blew into the Blue Cross Arena down in Rochester to meet the Knighthawks, the winds were whipping.
Two Bandits might have stepped onto the turf first, but they were followed by 17 others who contributed to the 12-8 victory for a 2-0 record.
After all was said and done, 11 Bandits figured in scoring while battling a gale force of Knighthawks, who, too, got caught up in a few scoring gusts of their own.
Even when taking a 3-0 lead after the first quarter, the Bandits had to battle back a few times in the game, including erasing a 7-7 tie entering the fourth quarter. The club scored four goals in two minutes and thirty-six seconds in the middle of a six-goal run, righting their wind-blown sails and capping a 9-4 scoring advantage by the game’s end.
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But it was the saving grace of goaltender Matt Vinc who withstood 48 Knighthawk shots that whipped from all points of the turf. He was moving with grace, facing a flurry of K-Hawk attempts.
Credit the Bandits defense, too, who opened up the shooting lanes and battled for loose balls.
Here is a sample of how the defense and Vinc took care of business, including Bryce Sweeting soaking up a shot with courage and skill. Sweeting was all over the floor Saturday night in the checking game, scooping up loose balls, and passing up the floor. For this, he was awarded the Bandits heavyweight belt of the game.
“Watching Matt play the way he did, it just reaffirms what we all believe – that he’s the best in the world,” said Bandits general manager and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich.
And more from the Bandits defense and Vinc.
Here is a power play opportunity for the Knighthawks, turned aside by Vinc, finished off with Sweeting tossing to Steve Priolo, who sets up the scoring opportunity by Dhane Smith – and then some.
With the K-Hawks leading 5-3, how about this fine play by Brent Noseworthy and Kyle Buchanan, forcing an errant pass and leaving the rest to Ian MacKay, marking his return to the lineup, igniting the Bandits comeback.
And another fine defensive formation followed up by a Matt Spanger score.
Here is a perfect example of how well the Bandits work as a complete unit, including Justin Robinson, Buchanan, Sweeting, and Nick Weiss, with Chase Fraser and Josh Byrne opening a lane for Chris Cloutier.
Not to be outdone, but unfortunately denied of his flight plan because his shoe encroached on the white line by a milli-inch, Josh Byrne shows his unique athleticism.
Here is another example of the fine teamwork employed by the Bandits offense. Notice Smith being used as a decoy. Byrne (22) starts the movement with Connor Fields and then watch how Byrne draws two defensemen away, allowing Cloutier space to score.
The offense shared the wealth Saturday night. Chase Fraser was outstanding with his four assists and tenacious play. Connor Fields had a 4+2 night, leading the way.
Randy Mearns, former Bandit and Knighthawk, and more importantly, my broadcast partner of 18 seasons, assesses the team’s performance, starting with the offense.
“Talk about a matchup problem for opposing defenses. I mean, pick your poison. The Bandits front end is balanced on both sides of the field,” said Mearns, who is the head coach of St. Bonaventure’s Division 1 men’s lacrosse team.
“Their explosiveness can get to the heart of the defense and play extremely unselfish. The guys are working hard off the ball to get open and working for each other on ball. It’s not just one guy. It’s the entire offensive core; Byrne, Smith, Fields, Fraser, Nanticoke, Cloutier, Buchanan, and McCulley.”
“Combined with goaltender Matt Vinc and the imposing defense under the leadership of Steve Priolo working as a unit, they also can push transition and score unsettled goals. The Bandits can attack from anywhere.”
Calmer winds will prevail for the next few weeks as the Bandits next start will be at home on January 8, 2022, against the Toronto Rock, for their annual Tucker Out Lymphoma Night.