Following their thrilling comeback win last Sunday on Long Island against the New York Riptide, the Buffalo Bandits (5-0) are back in the friendly confines of KeyBank Center to host the Rochester Knighthawks (2-4) on Saturday.
In their first meeting back on December 11 at Blue Cross Arena, both teams had a 1-0 record until the Bandits used six fourth-quarter goals to pull away from the Knighthawks in a 12-8 victory.
Connor Fields ignited the Bandits with his second straight four-goal game along with two assists, and goaltender Matt Vinc made 48 saves. For Rochester, Curtis Knight tied Fields for a game-high six points (3+3) and recorded his first hat-trick.
Since then, the two teams have gone in opposite directions.
Rochester is on a three-game losing streak where they have been outscored 42-26. In their last game against the Toronto Rock, who was also on a two-game losing skid, the Knighthawks never secured a lead and lost 12-8.
Buffalo has shown both the resiliency and poise to mount a comeback as well as the ability to blow out the opposition in lopsided wins. The Bandits are the lone undefeated team left in the NLL, giving Rochester even more motivation to knock off their rival.
“Every team wants to be the first to ruin our undefeated season,” forward Dhane Smith said. “We know that we have a target on our back. No game is easy in this league, so we have to come much more prepared for the task at hand.”
Faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Fans can catch the game on ESPN+ and The Bet 1520 AM.
Here is what you need to know for the game:
1. Not The Same Knighthawks
Buffalo’s lowest goal total of the season heading into the fourth quarter was against Rochester when they were tied 6-6. Even though the Bandits ultimately won the game, Smith was reminded of how dangerous Rochester can be.
“As a team, we learned not to take [Rochester] lightly,” he said. “They aren’t the same expansion team from two years ago, and we almost let that one slip away.”
The Bandits learned a valuable lesson not to have preconceived notions about how a team played in the past or their current record. This week, their focus in practice has been to keep the foot on the gas and play the best game possible.
“I think we need to make sure we focus on doing the little things well,” forward Josh Byrne said. “Coming on and off the floor with a purpose and high energy. Keeping the ball hot and getting through the middle to create confusion.”
2. Byrne and Smith having great seasons so far
It should come as no surprise that Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith have been putting up MVP-type numbers this season.
Smith has shown that he is one of the most unselfish players in the league, dishing out 26 assists. The 2016 MVP is third in the league in both assists and points, trailing only Philadelphia’s Kevin Crowley (13+29) and New York’s Callum Crawford (12+27), who have played more games this year.
Smith is fresh off a nine-assist performance, including five helpers in the first quarter. In 2018, he set a career-high and single-season franchise record with 70 assists that year.
Byrne has scored a team-high 13 goals, placing him ninth in the NLL. He’s top-15 in the league with 17 assists and 30 points.
The tandem’s 65 points through five games are the most for a duo this season, and their 28 points over the last two games are also top in the NLL.
3. Hometown Heroes Night
The Bandits are proud to honor all first responders, military members, and frontline workers this Saturday against the Knighthawks for “Hometown Heroes Night.”
Eligible heroes will have the opportunity for a special $10 ticket offer for admission of the game.
Throughout the week, Bandits players visited the Buffalo Police Department as well as local firehouses, bringing them tickets and merchandise along with coffee and baked goods. Content from the visits will be played in-arena throughout the game.
Mike Hart, who was awarded the purple heart, will sing the national anthem pregame, and Robert Stutz, who served over 12 years in the U.S. Navy as a Petty Officer 2nd class, will be recognized as the Hero of the Game.