The Buffalo Bandits began their two-game Canadian road trip on Friday with some offensive fireworks in British Columbia.
The Bandits offense came to life in Vancouver against the Warriors, putting 15 in the net and winning by their largest margin of the season in a 15-8 triumph at Rogers Arena.
The Bandits got hat tricks from Corey Small and Aldergrove, B.C. native Chase Fraser in the win, while another B.C. product, Garrett Billings, had a goal and five assists in his return home. Josh Byrne, also from British Columbia, scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season and added four assists in his homecoming on Friday night.
Dhane Smith once again led the Bandits in points with eight (2+6). Chris Cloutier had a six-point night with two goals and four assists.
With their fifth win in a row, Buffalo improved to 6-1 on the season and 3-0 on the road. They also tied the Halifax Thunderbirds for first place in the National Lacrosse League’s North Division. With Halifax on a bye this week, the Bandits have a chance to move into sole possession of first place with a win over the Toronto Rock on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena.
Buffalo grabbed control of Friday night’s game in the second quarter, going on a 5-0 run to pull away from the Warriors. The Bandits offensive onslaught in the first half included nine goals on 40 shots. They closed the half with five consecutive goals to break a 4-4 tie.
Vancouver got on the board first 47 seconds in as Mitch Jones scored against his former team, beating Matt Vinc with a quick shot for his 18th goal of the year. Just seconds later, Lyndon Bunio appeared to score his first career NLL goal, but Bandits coach John Tavares challenged the call on the floor and the goal was overturned because Bunio had made contact with the crease before letting the shot go.
Another Vancouver goal was challenged by Tavares less than a minute later as Jordan McBride appeared to put the Warriors up 2-0, but again the goal was taken off the board as replays showed McBride’s toe touched the crease as the shot was fired.
Buffalo was able to tie the game at 1 at 3:23 as Matt Gilray worked a pick and roll with Billings and was left all alone in front to take a pass from Billings and bury his shot past Eric Penney. Just 18 seconds later, Riley Loewen beat Vinc short side to put Vancouver back in the lead again with 11:16 left in the first quarter.
Smith tied the score at 2 for Buffalo at 4:58 as he beat Penney with a shot from the left side that skipped by him low by his left foot. Before the quarter ended, Buffalo took the lead for the first time on the night at 10:47 as JP Kealey fed Byrne for his 20th goal of the season. They added a fourth goal with 34 seconds left as Cloutier walked in on Penney and beat him with a low shot to the stick side.
As the second quarter began, Jones struck again to cut the Bandit lead to one 20 seconds in as he beat Vinc short side for his second goal of the night. Just 40 seconds later, Vancouver tied the game as Bunio beat Vinc for his first career NLL goal for real this time.
Buffalo then went on the power play and Smith ripped home his second goal of the night to regain the lead at 2:56. On a delayed penalty, Byrne beat Penney with a shot up high for his second goal of the night and 21st of the season at 8:59. Cloutier then scored his second of the night 33 seconds later and Buffalo built a 7-4 lead. They extended their lead to 8-4 at 10:26 as Small ripped home his first goal of the night between Penney’s legs.
Chase Fraser celebrated his return home to British Columbia with a goal for the 20th consecutive game in his career. Fraser’s ninth of the season gave Buffalo a 9-4 lead with 2:48 to go in the half.
The second half began with Vancouver going on the power play and scoring as Jones fed McBride for a shot at the right of Vinc to make it 9-5. Buffalo responded 1:03 later as Billings scored a highlight-reel goal while falling to the turf. He let a shot go with his right knee on the ground and his body parallel to the turf. The shot eluded Penney to give Buffalo a five-goal lead again.
Fraser’s second goal of the night made it an 11-5 game at 6:55 as he spun away from a defender and ripped a low shot by Penney.
McBride cut the deficit to five with his second goal of the night at 7:47. Buffalo went on the power play shortly after, but Smith was called for a holding penalty as he tried to disrupt a breakaway. Vancouver was awarded a penalty shot and Jones beat Vinc to the glove side to complete the hat trick and make it 11-7.
After Buffalo was called for a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, Vancouver cashed in on the power play as Loewen scored his second of the night to make it 11-8 with 3:45 left in the quarter.
The Bandits ended the brief Vancouver scoring run by going on the power play themselves and cashing in as Small found the back of the net for the second time on the night with 1:22 to go in the quarter.
Right before the end of the quarter, Small completed the hat trick on a well-designed play with just 0.3 seconds left in the third. With Vinc on the bench for an extra attacker, Byrne fed Small with a behind-the-back pass and Small buried a quick shot for his third of the night.
In the fourth quarter, a scrum in front of the Vancouver net resulted in Warriors’ captain Matt Beers being ejected from the game as he earned a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct after being called for a five-minute cross check of Byrne as he dove into the Vancouver crease in an attempt at a shorthanded goal. Just seconds after play ensued, Fraser completed his hat trick as he ripped a shot from way out to give Buffalo a 14-8 lead with 4:29 gone in the fourth quarter.
In the closing minutes, Tavares gave Vinc a break as he pulled him from the crease in favor of Doug Buchan for the final 8:19 of action.
Buffalo’s 15th goal of the night came from Kealey, in the lineup for the injured Steve Priolo, as he beat Penney with 2:44 to play to close out the scoring.
In a dominating performance, the Bandits outshot the Warriors 73-50 on Friday night. Vinc stopped 37 of the 45 shots he saw while in goal for Buffalo. Buchan stopped all five shots he faced.
Sunday afternoon will be a chance for the Bandits not only to run their win streak to six in a row, but to move into first place all by themselves if they win at Toronto.
Faceoff for Sunday’s game at Scotiabank Arena is at 3 p.m.
The game can be streamed on B/R Live and the radio broadcast will be available on ESPN 1520 and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.