In their wildest contest of the 2019-20 season to this point, the Buffalo Bandits outlasted the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday night thanks to an amazing individual performance by their leading goal scorer and a fortuitous bounce to end the game.
The Bandits went to overtime with Colorado and came away with a 13-12 victory at the Pepsi Center thanks to a bizarre game-winner from Corey Small. The goal came 1:59 into the extra period as Small let a shot go from the outside. It hit goaltender Dillon Ward on the shoulder and bounded high into the air behind him.
The ball deflected off the post, then landed behind Ward in the goal crease, where Mammoth defender Jordan Gilles tried to clear it away. In doing so, he accidently knocked the ball into his own net, ending the game, and sending the Bandits home with their third straight win.
The Bandits would not have found themselves in overtime if not for the heroics of forward Josh Byrne.
Buffalo’s leading goal scorer struck for seven goals on the night, including the game-tying goal with 1:03 to play and the Buffalo net empty. Byrne also added an assist for an eight-point night to lead the team. Byrne now has 17 goals on the season to lead the Bandits.
Byrne finished just one goal shy of the Bandits’ team record for most goals in a game, which Mark Steenhuis set with eight goals in a game at Toronto on Feb. 20, 2009.
Byrne went toe-to-toe with Colorado’s Ryan Lee in Saturday night’s contest in Denver. Lee, who entered the game second in the NLL in points, found the back of the net five times himself to lead the Mammoth. At one point, Byrne and Lee were responsible for four straight goals during a stretch in the second and third quarters.
Byrne’s eight points (7+1) were a team high for Buffalo. Dhane Smith led the Bandits in assists with six. Small finished with five points (2+3) on the night. Matt Vinc made 41 saves to earn the win.
Chris Wardle led Colorado in scoring with eight assists. Eli McLaughlin finished with seven points (1+6).
Colorado outshot Buffalo, 53-50. Ward stopped 37 shots for the Mammoth.
It was Byrne who struck first in this contest as he opened the scoring with his 11th goal of the season just 32 seconds in.
Colorado then responded with two goals as Dylan Molloy and Lee scored 49 seconds apart to give the Mammoth a 2-1 lead. Lee’s goal was a power-play tally after a slashing penalty by Nick Weiss.
Byrne countered for Buffalo in style, scoring his second of the game with 10:15 left in the quarter on a beautiful, behind-the-back goal to tie the game.
Nearly five minutes passed before the game’s next goal. Kevin Brownell’s shot trickled through the legs of Ward and into the Colorado net to give Buffalo a 3-2 lead. At 12:24, the Bandits scored their third goal in a row and went up 4-2 on Brent Noseworthy’s first career National Lacrosse League goal. Noseworthy was Buffalo’s first round draft pick back in September from the University of Michigan.
Colorado answered before the end of the period as Dylan Kinnear tallied with 1:23 to go.
During the period, Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc made 11 saves, including the 8,000th save of his long NLL career. He also made a point-blank save at the buzzer to preserve Buffalo’s lead at the end of the period.
The Bandits then jumped on the Mammoth early in the second quarter. Buffalo scored twice in 58 seconds to open up a 6-3 lead. The first of the two goals came 25 seconds in as Byrne completed the hat trick as he went airborne above the crease and beat Ward with a little fake followed by a quick shot.
Just 33 seconds later, Small scored his first of the night after receiving a beautiful feed from Smith to the right of the net.
At 11:05, Colorado’s Kyle Killen was called for an illegal substitution penalty after jumping off the bench to stop a Buffalo breakaway. By rule, that necessitated a penalty shot for the Bandits. Byrne took the penalty shot for Buffalo and scored his fourth of the night, going airborne again and beating Ward low to the glove side.
Leading 7-4 at the start of the second half, Byrne struck again for his fifth of the night to make it 8-4 2:54 into the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, Lee went to work for the Mammoth. He tallied his third and fourth goals of the night in the third quarter to get Colorado back into the game. With 5:46 left in the period, Killen scored to bring the Mammoth within 8-7.
Steve Priolo stopped the Colorado scoring run with a goal on a long run 19 seconds after Colorado crept within one. But once again, it was Lee who struck for Colorado. His fifth goal of the night brought the Mammoth within one again with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
As the game moved into the fourth quarter, the back-and-forth shootout between Byrne and Lee continued as Byrne responded with his sixth goal of the night to complete the sock trick just 34 seconds into the fourth.
Colorado responded as Killen scored his second of the night with 9:27 to play to make it a one-goal game again at 10-9.
With 7:12 to play, Chase Fraser scored a huge goal for Buffalo to give them some breathing room as he dove above the crease and fired a shot passed Ward as the net was knocked lose.
But the lead slipped away from Buffalo as the Mammoth struck for three straight goals to take their first lead since 2-1 in the first quarter. The first tally came from Kinnear with 5:11 to play, shortly after Small hit the crossbar in the Colorado end and the Mammoth picked up the rebound and transitioned the other way with it. The Mammoth tied the game 39 seconds later as Eli McLaughlin scored his lone goal of the night.
Just 25 seconds later, the Mammoth took the lead with 4:07 left to play as Jacob Ruest found the back of the net.
The Bandits were on the ropes but found a way to rally in the dying stages of the game. Buffalo called a timeout with 1:09 to play and pulled Vinc in favor of the extra attacker. Just six seconds after play resumed, Byrne scored for the seventh and final time on the night as he took a feed from Smith and found the back of the net with 1:03 to play.
In addition to it being the seventh goal of the night for Byrne and the tying tally, the goal was a milestone one for Smith as it was his 400th career assist.
The Mammoth had a chance to win the game before the end of regulation, but Vinc came up with a big save on McLaughlin with 33 seconds to play. After a Colorado timeout, the Mammoth had another chance, but Killen lost control of the ball and time ran out in regulation as the ball trickled away from him.
As the game moved into overtime, both teams had chances to win it early in the extra session. First, Buffalo defenseman Mitch de Snoo blocked a shot from Lee, denying him a chance at his sixth goal.
Then, Smith was denied at the other end by Ward before Vinc had to come up with a save on Chris Wardle, who was Colorado’s leading point getter on the night with eight, all of them assists.
The Bandits were able to set up the game winner a short time later after Priolo called timeout with 13:14 to play. Fraser passed the ball to Smith, who sent a pass all the way across to Small on the other side. He ripped a high shot that hit Ward on the shoulder, deflected up into the air, hit the post, fell to the ground, and was then knocked into the net by Gilles trying to clear it away.
It was the second goal of the game for Small and the seventh of his season. Fraser and Smith were credited with the assists.
Before the game, the Bandits made a noteworthy roster move as they placed second-leading goal scorer Chris Cloutier on injured reserve and added Quinn Powless to the active roster.
The Bandits are now 4-1 on the season. They remain behind 6-0 Halifax in the North Division standings.
The Bandits will return to KeyBank Center coming up on Friday night as they host the Rochester Knighthawks. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.