The Buffalo Bandits’ Canadian excursion continues on Sunday afternoon when the Bandits visit Toronto to take on the Rock at 3 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena.
The two-game Canadian road trip started an impressive 15-8 win over the Vancouver Warriors on Friday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The Bandits peppered Vancouver netminder Eric Penney with 73 shots on goal in the game. Corey Small and Chase Fraser each had hat tricks in the win, while Dhane Smith led the Bandits with eight points, including six assists.
With their fifth win in a row, the Bandits now have a chance to move into first place in the NLL North Division if they can take down 4-2 Toronto on Sunday. The Bandits are now 6-1 and can move ahead of 6-1 Halifax, who are off this week and don’t play again until Saturday, Feb. 15 against Saskatchewan.
Sunday’s contest with rival Toronto is Buffalo’s second meeting with the Rock this season. The two teams met on January 18 at KeyBank Center and Buffalo came away with a 10-8 victory. In that game, Buffalo broke an 8-8 tie late in the fourth quarter as Chris Cloutier scored the game winner with 5:29 to play.
Toronto has not played since last Friday, when they earned their biggest victory of the season with a 12-9 defeat of previously unbeaten Halifax. The Rock held an 11-5 lead at the end of three quarters against the team that entered the contest with a 6-0 record.
Dan Dawson led the way with three goals and an assist against the Thunderbirds. Rob Hellyer had two goals and an assist in the win. Nick Rose stopped 42 of 51 shots for Toronto to earn the victory in goal.
The Bandits will have their hands full with Hellyer and his goal-scoring prowess on Sunday afternoon. Hellyer entered the weekend tied for third in goals in the NLL with 17. His 28 points on the season are a team high. Dawson is second on the Rock in points with 23 (11+12). The Rock have also received strong play on the offensive end from Dan Craig, who has 8 goals and 10 assists.
Toronto’s talented offense will challenge a Buffalo defense that will be without captain Steve Priolo. During Friday’s win against Rochester, Priolo was injured while trying to block a shot and did not return to the game. On Thursday, the Bandits placed Priolo on injured reserve and added JP Kealey to the active roster.
On the defensive end, only Saskatchewan (45) and New England (55) have given up fewer goals this season than Toronto’s 60. Defenseman Brad Kri is tied for second in the entire league (with Buffalo’s Mitch de Snoo) in caused turnovers with 13. Kri also excels at the faceoff circle, where he is fourth overall in the league with a .538 faceoff percentage.
Nick Rose has played in goal for all six games this season for Toronto. He has a 9.67 goals-against average and an .809 save percentage.
The Rock will be seeking their third home win of the season, while the Bandits will be looking to claim their fourth road win of the season, all of which have come in January and February.
The Bandits continue to be led on the offensive end by Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne. Smith is now up to a team-high 45 points on the season with 12 goals and a league-leading 33 assists. Byrne, meanwhile, is tied for the league lead in goals with 21 and is now up to 37 points on the season.
Cloutier has also moved to 30 points on the season with 15 goals and 15 assists.
The Bandits are now the league’s highest-scoring team in terms of goals per game (13.3 goals per game).
Defensively, the Bandits continue to be led by Mitch de Snoo with a team-high 59 loose balls and 14 caused turnovers. Ian MacKay had a whopping 15 loose balls against the Warriors to give him 53 now on the season.
In goal, Matt Vinc had one of his best performances of the season Friday in Vancouver, stopping 37 of 45 shots before being relieved by Doug Buchan for the final 8:19.
Fans hoping to watch Sunday’s game can do so by checking out the stream on B/R Live. They can also listen to the radio broadcast on ESPN 1520 and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.