The Buffalo Bandits will welcome an old friend to KeyBank Center on Friday night as the Rochester Knighthawks invade for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff. The Bandits and Knighthawks have been a long-standing rivalry in professional box lacrosse since Rochester was awarded a franchise in 1995.
There is, however, a different twist on the meeting between these rivals this year. The Bandits will be hosting the new Knighthawks franchise.
The original Knighthawks, who won five league championships between 1997 and 2014, relocated to Halifax over the summer. Meanwhile, Rochester was awarded a new expansion franchise and kept the existing team name. The Knighthawks now have a completely new roster in addition to a brand-new logo and color scheme.
The new Knighthawks have struggled to find their footing early in their fresh start. Rochester dropped its first four games of the season before finally earning its first victory in franchise history on Jan. 18 against defending champion Calgary. The Knighthawks followed that up the next night with a 12-4 loss in Philadelphia before having a week off.
The Knighthawks will come into KeyBank Center refreshed and ready to make a statement against their regional rivals. It will be a homecoming for Shawn Evans, who was snatched away from Buffalo by Rochester as the first pick in the NLL Expansion Draft back in July. Evans was a key member of the Buffalo team that went to the NLL Finals a year ago. He tallied 94 points (28+66) in the regular season for the Bandits and added 20 points (8+12) during Buffalo’s postseason run.
This season, Evans is second on Rochester with 26 points (8+18), trailing only Holden Cattoni. Cattoni’s 30 points (10+20) are tied for 10th most in the league and he leads the Knighthawks in each of the three major offensive statistical categories (goals, assists, points). Curtis Knight is second on the Knighthawks in goals (9) and third in points (18).
The Knighthawks have split goaltending duties so far this season between Steve Fryer and Craig Wende. Each netminder has played in four games and more than 150 minutes. Wende earned the lone win in goal for Rochester in the game against Calgary.
Meanwhile, the Bandits are coming off perhaps their most exciting win of the season. Buffalo earned its third straight win in thrilling fashion, outlasting the Colorado Mammoth 13-12 in overtime at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The game was also memorable for the performance of Josh Byrne, who netted seven goals in the victory. Byrne’s seven tallies were one off the team record of eight set by Mark Steenhuis in 2009.
The Bandits needed all they could get from Byrne to pull out the victory on Saturday night. The Bandits found themselves trailing with just over a minute to play when Byrne’s seventh goal of the night tied the game at 12 with 1:03 to play.
In overtime, it was Corey Small who was the hero as he scored on a shot that bounced off the post and was accidently knocked into the net by a Colorado defender.
A win on Friday night would give the Bandits a four-game winning streak. They last won four in a row in April and May of last season as they won their final two regular season games before defeating New England and Toronto in their two Eastern division playoff matchups. The Bandits also enjoyed a six-game winning streak last season between January and March.
Dhane Smith continues to lead the Bandits in scoring with 26 points (6+20). Byrne, however, is nipping at his heels as his seven-goal night moved him up to 25 points (17+8) on the season.
Byrne’s 17 goals not only lead the Bandits but are second most in the entire league, trailing only Shayne Jackson, who has 18 goals for Georgia. Byrne does have the best shooting percentage of any player in the league, scoring 17 times on 61 shots for a .279 shooting percentage.
The Bandits continue to be deadly on the power play as they now have scored on 9 of 16 power play opportunities on the season. Their 56.2 power play percentage is second best in the entire league.
In goal, Matt Vinc is now up to four wins on the season for the Bandits as he has stopped 209 shots for an .801 save percentage.
The Bandits and Knighthawks will not see each other again until April 11, when Buffalo will visit Rochester. The Bandits will face Rochester for the third and final time in the season finale on April 25 at Blue Cross Arena.
The Bandits will be celebrating Youth Lacrosse Night on Friday at KeyBank Center. Tickets are on sale now. The game can also be streamed on B/R Live and the radio broadcast will be available on WGR 550 and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.