The Buffalo Bandits (6-3) hosted the Georgia Swarm (3-4) for the second game of their first back-to-back of the 2018 season on Saturday night at the KeyBank Center. The 14,058 fans in attendance got to see the Bandits win their fourth straight game as they beat the Swarm 18-9.
Led by an outstanding performance by goaltender Zach Higgins, who turned away 54 of the 63 shots he faced, the Bandits now find themselves in sole possession of first place in the East Division.
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen Higgy (Higgins) play, he was spectacular. When it was close early on he made some big saves and gave us some confidence,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “He was the main reason why we held them to nine goals We had a lot of breakdowns, especially in the first half and he came up with huge saves time and time again.”
“I was telling Shayne Jackson after the game that I thought that was the best I’d seen Higgy play,” said Swarm forward Miles Thompson. “We played together in Minnesota.”
Buffalo opened the scoring with a transition goal from Nick Weiss, but Alex Crepinsek answered for the Swarm. Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith combined for a three goal Bandits run and Buffalo opened up a 4-1 lead. Jesse King found the net for Georgia and the Swarm trailed 4-2 after the first.
The second quarter opened with a 6-0 Buffalo run. Smith, Liam Patten, Mitch Jones, Jordan Durston, Callum Crawford and Vaughn Harris all found the net before a powerplay goal from Randy Staats stopped the bleeding. Crawford responded for Buffalo before Miles Thompson scored. Buffalo took an 11-4 lead into the half.
Georgia had trouble getting on a run of their own to respond to the big offensive runs that Buffalo put together.
“Every time you play on the road you have a tough time getting on a run because the crowd helps the home team,” noted Thompson. “Especially these guys, they fill their stadium. We have to bounce back and look forward to tomorrow.”
The Bandits scored first again in the third quarter as Byrne and Jones each tallied goals. Staats scored for the Swarm, but Chase Fraser gave Buffalo a 14-5 lead. King and Lyle Thompson wrapped up the scoring to cut Buffalo’s lead to 14-7.
Crawford and Durston scored for the Bandits to begin the fourth quarter, completing the sweep of Buffalo scoring first in every frame. Lyle Thompson scored to trim Buffalo’s lead to 16-8, but Craig England and Thomas Hoggarth added two more for the Bandits. Kiel Matisz scored the final goal of the game.
The Bandits coaching staff has been preaching the importance of buying in to the systems all year. With their recent success, that message appears to be getting through loud and clear.
“Every game we play we try to have a complete effort from our goaltending, defense and offense. We’ve bought into that concept, we worked hard and accomplished that,” said Crawford postgame. “The message at halftime was that things went our way in the first half, but we couldn’t coast. We had to grind and work that much harder.”
Higgins, the game’s first star, made his first start as a Bandit. He was signed to the team when Buffalo goaltender Davide DiRuscio went down with an injury. He capitalized on the opportunity to start a game against his old team.
“When I got the call this morning I was pretty excited, I had to calm the nerves before the game. This was a long time coming, I couldn’t wait to get the chance,” said Higgins. “I’m appreciative of the chance I got tonight. I’m glad we were able to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Jones (1+6) and Durston (2+5) led Buffalo with seven points each. Lyle Thompson (2+2) led the Swarm with four points and 12 shots on goal.
The Bandits will return to action on February 24 when they host the Rochester Knighthawks at 7:30 P.M. while the Swarm host the Knighthawks at 6:05pm on Sunday, February 11 at the Infinite Energy Arena.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1 – Zach Higgins
2 – Josh Byrne
3 – Callum Crawford