By Alex Beilman - Bandits.com
Just like the early-morning fog lifted from Canalside this afternoon, the Buffalo Bandits (1-2) saw an early-season fog lift from their offense, as they scored in bunches Saturday night to secure their first win of 2017 in a 21-15 triumph over the Vancouver Stealth (2-2).
“A little bit of a roller coaster ride as a coach, but, offensively I thought our transition game was huge,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “It got our offense going. Our offense is sharing the ball and that’s what we need to do. That’s how you’re going to be successful.”
Ryan Benesch continued his dominance on the scoresheet, contributing four goals and five assists. That brings his team-leading point total up to 21 points in three games.
Goaltender Davide DiRuscio made his first start of the year and had spells of remarkable play, including a stretch of solid goaltending that snuffed out any hope of a comeback for Vancouver. The Bandits were getting outshot for a majority of the game, and DiRuscio responded with 45 saves on 60 shots.
“That’s what you ask of your goalie. We want you to save the ones that we need you to save and that’s what he did tonight,” Cordingley said. “Yeah, there’s a couple that he wishes he could have had, but that’s a 315-pound man in net that’s playing his heart out. I thought he was pretty good for us.”
The Bandits were happy to get their first win of the season, but there was also a feeling of relief that they were able to do right by the fans in Banditland.
“The difference between the last games and this game was that we had more heart. We saw it in our coaches’ faces and we saw it in our fans that we let them down and that was unacceptable,” Steve Priolo said. “There’s no better place to play than Banditland. So, we come out here, play with a little and a little passion. You heard the fans tonight, it’s the place to be.”
Buffalo also did it without reigning MVP Dhane Smith, who missed the game with a lower-body injury.
The start of the game looked like it was going to have the same plot as the first two. Vancouver sprinted out to a quick lead, with Thomas Hoggarth putting the Stealth up 1-0 just 13 seconds into the contest. Peter McFetridge followed that up with 1:37 gone in the first quarter to increase the lead to 2-0.
“We had a really good week of practice. Maybe if it got to five or six again, that might have crept into our minds, but, at 2-0, we were calm,” forward Mitch Jones said. “I think this week, we were on track with what kind of team we wanted to be.”
“There was no panic. When they scored two goals right away, nobody was doubting our game plan,” Cordingley said. “We dug a hole and we have to dig out of it. That’s what we did.”
Almost three minutes with no goals left the window open for the Bandits, and Brad Self took advantage, as he notched his fourth goal in three games to get the score within one. A massive sigh of relief came over Banditland as it finally looked like the home side was not going to let the game slip away before halftime.
Andrew Watt was able to tally his first goal of the year to tie the game at 2-2. The teams then proceeded to trade the next three goals to bring the game to 4-3 in favor of the Stealth. That’s when the Bandits were finally able to put together a first half run of five unanswered goals in spectacular fashion.
The run was highlighted by two shorthanded goals on the same penalty by Benesch, the team’s leading scorer, and Priolo.
“I told [Benesch], ‘We’re going to kill this penalty.’ Then, I turned back around and said, ‘Eff that. You’re going to score a goal,’” Priolo said. “We went down, he scored, and then I got my goal.”
“Priolo called it. Sure enough, we got the ball, we got the transition, he gave me that pass, and, thank God I buried it,” Benesch said. “I guess [Priolo]’s premonition came true. He’s using an offensive guy’s stick right now, so I think that paid off for him. He’s one of our leaders. It’s great to see him be successful at what he does.”
Priolo seemed to find his offensive legs after that, as the shorthanded marker was his first of three on the night. The hat trick was the second of the big defenseman’s career, as he also tallied one during his time in Colorado.
“I never thought I would see another one,” Priolo said. “We’ve got all these new sticks coming in, maybe it’s the new sticks.”
Vancouver was able to recover briefly with a four-goal run of their own to bring the score to 8-8. Corey Small (3+7) and Ryhs Duch (2+5) were unsurprisingly the leaders of the Stealth’s offense on the evening.
However, Jones scored his first of four goals on the night to get the lead back. Craig England, playing in his first game of the year, capped the half off with his first career NLL goal to give the Bandits a 10-8 lead at halftime.
“There’s a guy [England] who works his bag off and does everything you ask him do,” Cordingley said. “He probably got the biggest cheer from the bench when he scored tonight. If there’s any kids out there watching a guy who works, that’s the guy you want to watch. He works for everything he gets.”
The Bandits were able to maintain a lead throughout a third quarter that saw Benesch complete his hat trick. However, the Stealth would not go away and, capitalizing on a five-minute power play, were able to get to within one of the Bandits at 15-14 to end the third.
Logan Schuss opened the final frame with his third of the night to tie the game for the visitors. However, the Bandits were able to manufacture another run that saw six unanswered goals cross the line for the home side. The run was ignited by Priolo’s game-winning goal, a goal that also completed the defender’s hat trick.
Priolo silently added three assists in the game for one of the most explosive nights of his career.
“We needed our leaders to be leaders and he was really good. He scored some timely goals for us,” Cordingley said. “He played a lot of minutes on D, and we needed that out of him. He was our player of the game.”
The Bandits will look to harness the momentum from the win as they head out to their first road contest of the season. The team will travel to Connecticut to take on the New England Black Wolves next Saturday at 7 p.m.