By Troy Landreville | NLL.com Contributor
Two sub.-500 teams looking to gain traction in their respective National Lacrosse League divisional standings clashed on St. Patrick’s Day at the Langley Events Centre.
But the Buffalo Bandits didn’t need the luck of the Irish to dispatch the Vancouver Stealth.
They simply put on their work boots and outlasted, more like outgunned, the Stealth 15-11.
The Bandits completely dominated much of the second half, scoring eight unanswered goals to transform a one-goal halftime deficit into a lead that the Stealth just couldn’t overcome.
A late push by the Stealth that saw them score four straight goals in the fourth quarter wasn’t enough to dig them out of the hole in which they found themselves.
Stealth forward Corey Small, who finished the night with three goals and three assists, said Vancouver couldn’t slow down the Bandits’ momentum.
“Two penalties to start the first half and next thing you know, we’re down two goals,” Small said. “We lose a little bit of composure and we let the doubt kind of sink into our minds and that resulted in an eight-goal run by them. We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to find a way to break that, whether it’s a big play on defence or transition or offensively, we’ve got to find a way to get a goal and break up that run.”
Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said discipline was the key for his team in the second half.
“We stayed out of the penalty box,” Cordingley said. “I thought we had a real good start tonight, we were up 4-1, and then all of the sudden we want to get even with guys who were taking cheap shots or whatever happened — it’s the game of lacrosse. You have to control your emotions and we want our guys to be able to play with emotion but not emotional, and we were emotional in the first half.”
Cordingley sent a message to his troops at halftime: keep your cool.
“Do we want to kick the crap out of guys and get even or do we want to win the game? I thought the guys played a remarkable second half, a very, very disciplined second half. So I thought that was the difference, there.”
Both teams wanted to keep on the winning track.
After stumbling to a 1-5 start, the Bandits had won three of their last four outings going into the game.
After opening the season with two road wins, the Stealth dropped their next five. Since then, they, too, have come up on top in three of their last four outings.
On Saturday, the Stealth’s Jordan Durston thought he opened the scoring, taking a feed off the side wall from and moving in alone on Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo.
The goal was waved off, though, after Buffalo challenged the ruling, saying the ball didn’t completely enter the goal-line.
Seconds later, the Stealth scored one that counted, after Small one-timed a feed from Rhys Duch. The ball sailed straight over the shoulder of Cosmo and into the net.
The Bandits stole momentum after that, tallying four unanswered goals in 3:45.
Jordan Durston gave the Stealth some much-needed life with a seeing-eye turnaround shot for his second of the period with under a minute to go in the opening quarter.
The Stealth continued to claw their way back in the second quarter, with a perfectly placed point shot by Logan Schuss beating Cosmo.
However, momentum was short-lived after Cosmo floated a beautiful cross-floor, Hail Mary bounce pass that found Pat Saunders alone behind the Stealth defence. Saunders scored on the play to make it 5-3.
Durston, with his second of the night, and Joel McCready, 51 seconds part, tied the game at five goals apiece early in the second quarter.
Both teams played lock-down across until the final minute of the second quarter when the Stealth’s James Rahe bounced a low shot past Cosmo.
Twenty seconds later, true artistry from Buffalo’s Mitch Jones tied the game, as he corralled the ball and flicked the ball, behind his back, to tie the game at 6-6.
Finally, with 3.3 seconds to go before halftime Duch wired a shot past Cosmo to put the Stealth ahead 7-6.
The Stealth crumbled in the third quarter.
Six unanswered Buffalo goals turned the home team’s one-goal lead into a five-goal deficit.
Penalties also stung the home team in the third quarter, leading to power play goals off the sticks of the Bandits’ Mark Steinhuis and Alex Kedoh Hill.
The Bandits didn’t let up, and after Saunders found the net again, the Stealth were staring at a three-goal deficit.
Brad Self and Saunders continued the onslaught as Buffalo took a commanding 12-7 lead.
The Stealth desperately needed a spark in the fourth quarter.
They didn’t get it.
Instead, Jones beat Stealth goaltender Tye Belanger with his second of the game to make it 13-7.
Belanger was pulled from the net after the Bandits’ Craig England scored his team’s 14th goal on Buffalo’s 42nd shot.
But the Stealth never gave up shockingly, considering how the third quarter went, rallied with four straight goals.
The bleeding finally stopped with 4:06 remaining when Small found a hole in Cosmo’s defence with a diving shot.
It was the first of two by Small, who completed his hat trick to make it 14-9.
A breakaway pass by Tyler Richards, who came into the net in relief of Belanger, found Peter McFettridge alone and he found the net.
Durston then tallied his hat trick goal, and those who stuck around in the LEC had the building buzzing.
Looking for a miracle, the Stealth pulled Richards for an extra attacker but that opened an opportunity for Anthony Malcolm to score an empty netter to close out the scoring.
Small said the four-goal run gave the Stealth some hope.
“You never know,” he said. “I’ve been part of teams that have scored four goals in under two (minutes). It’s possible, we’ve got the firepower to do it, but you can’t leave it to the last two minutes of the game to bring it back. There’s always that chance.”
Next up for the Bandits is a game in Rochester against the Nighthawks on March 25.
The Stealth head to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to play the Rock on March 25.