Colin Doyle had a game-high eight points, including two crucial late shorthanded goals, as the Toronto Rock (5-1) earned some breathing room atop the East Division with a 14-12 road win over the Buffalo Bandits (3-2). (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Undisciplined play and Rock captain Colin Doyle helped foil any hopes of the Buffalo Bandits (3-2) taking over first place in the NLL East Division as the Toronto Rock (5-1) held on for a 14-12 road victory before 14,918 fans at First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
A late five-minute major penalty on Bandits rookie Hayden Smith was a self-inflicted dagger, stymieing the strong momentum Buffalo had been building behind a raucous crowd.
“I don’t want to be too harsh, but we’ve got to be one of the dumbest teams,” said the visibly-displeased Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “I don’t know what to tell these guys to get them to understand that we can’t take penalties. Two five-minute [major penalties] killed us tonight.”
“We knew that when we got power play opportunities we’ve got to capitalize,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley.
Doyle, the Rock’s all-time scoring leader, once again proved that he is not only one of the best players in the game, but also one of the most clutch.
Doyle scored a hat trick in the fourth quarter, including two shorthanded goals, to put the team on his back and carry them to victory with a game-high eight points (4+4).
“We’re glad he’s on our team,” Cordingley said. “Colin is an upper-echelon guy like [Bandits forward] John Tavares. When the game is on the line, they just somehow will the team to win and score those big goals.”
Doyle’s offensive exploits were supported by the usual suspects as Garrett Billings tallied seven points (2+5), Josh Sanderson had six points (1+5) and Stephan Leblanc finished with five points (2+3).
With Toronto clinging to an 11-8 lead in the fourth quarter, Rock defender Damon Edwards literally took the helmet off of the head of Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis with an illegal cross check, which earned him a five-minute major and a match penalty in what appeared to be the turning point of the game.
Steenhuis, who finished with a hat trick and one assist, incredibly withstood the headshot and scored on the play. Match penalties are non-releasable this year in the NLL, so Buffalo had a golden opportunity to take the lead and earn another come-from-behind victory.
But after Shawn Williams scored to bring the Bandits to within one at 11-10, Hayden Smith took his critical 5-minute major penalty by high-sticking Rock forward Scott Evans near the boards where he was not posing a strong threat to score.
The rookie mistake was ultimately the game’s most crucial play and Kilgour was not willing to cut his first-year defender any slack for inexperience.
“That’s unacceptable. You’ve got to know time and situation,” Kilgour explained. “We had a power play there, there’s no reason to go [to the outside] and be that aggressive. It’s about control. Put him in a spot where we can double him and he’ll never get the shot off.”
The Bandits took 11 minutes worth of penalties in the first half, which allowed the Rock to get out to a 7-2 lead in the second quarter.
Veteran defender Billy Dee Smith was the most egregious offender, taking a five-minute major, followed by an extra two-minute slashing minor that he earned after the play.
Kilgour said he was at a loss as to how to get through to Billy Dee Smith, a former NLL Defensive Player of the Year, and turned to benching him for a period of time following those penalties.
“Obviously talking to him isn’t going to change him, I’ve been talking to him for 11 years,” he said. “I’m sick of it. I’m not taking it anymore.”
Buffalo did clean up its act for the most part the rest of the way, staying out of the box for the entire second half until Hayden Smith’s crucial late penalty. But it was clear to both the coaching staff and players that a lack of discipline is a serious problem that must be resolved.
“We feel that we gave [this game] away due to undisciplined play,” said Bandits defenseman Scott Self, who scored a goal late in Buffalo’s frantic attempt to tie the game. “That’s kind of been a theme for our team this year and it cost us the game tonight.”
Self was far less harsh on his teammates than his head coach in his assessment of the undisciplined play.
“I don’t know that we’re undisciplined, but maybe we’re just a little bit overzealous at times because our ‘D’ is aggressive,” he said. “I think we just need to be real careful when we make contact.”
Despite spending so much time in the penalty box, Buffalo did create a number of solid scoring opportunities in the first quarter, but Rock goaltender Nick Rose looked comfortable from the opening whistle, making difficult saves look easy.
“[Rose] has been good for us the whole year,” Cordingley said. “When you break down on defense and they have opportunities, you need the big saves and he gave us some tonight.”
The Bandits offense was led once again by Williams with five points (1+4), with forward Aaron Wilson contributing four points (3+1) and Chad Culp adding three assists. While Toronto's captain thrived, Buffalo's captain Tavares, the NLL's all-time leading scorer, missed the game due to a calf injury.
The game was Rock defenseman and former Bandits captain Chris White’s first trip back to Buffalo, where he spent the previous eight seasons. The victory made his return a sweet one.
“A lot of memories come back,” said White, reflecting on how it felt entering the building and heading for the visitors locker room. “I had a lot of good years here, unforgettable years. It was nice to come back here.”
White played well against his former mates. He was relatively unnoticeable, which for a defender in this league, usually means they played a solid game. White feels he has fit right in with his new teammates.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “I can’t ask for better guys back there [on the defense] to play with.”
Buffalo now finds itself in the middle of a stretch of seven straight divisional games, with a home-and-home against Rochester coming in the next two weeks.
“The good news is, that game is on us,” Kilgour said. “I thought we outplayed them for a good amount of time, but at the same time we just made too many mistakes mentally to overcome. I told the guys, ‘I’m proud of the effort, not proud of the stupidity.’”
The Bandits host the Knighthawks on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET while the Rock travel to Minnesota next weekend to take on the Swarm on Friday, Feb. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET.