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Second Half Surge takes Buffalo over Toronto, 14-10

01/14/2012, 7:13pm EST
By Alan Rosenhoch for NLL.com

Bandits win opener while Rock fall to 0-2

The Buffalo Bandits treated a big crowd of 16,356 at First Niagara Center to a 14-10 victory over the defending champion Toronto Rock Saturday evening.  The increased speed of the game was evident early and often, with several goals scored on the transition, especially from the Bandits.


Newcomer Luke Wiles (15) scored three goals and added an assist in Buffalo's 14-10 win over the Toronto Rock in front of 16,356 fans at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. (photo credit: Bill Wippert)

The Buffalo Bandits treated a big crowd of 16,356 at First Niagara Center to a 14-10 victory over the defending champion Toronto Rock Saturday evening.  The increased speed of the game was evident early and often, with several goals scored on the transition, especially from the Bandits.

Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson was spectacular, turning away 41 of Toronto’s 51 shots, including one when he looked to be down and out but made a phenomenal stick save from his back side. 

Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour did not think his team played all that well, despite the final score.  “If it wasn’t for [Mike] Thompson and the goalpost tonight it would have been a completely different game,” he said.

Thompson admitted he patted the goal post a couple times, referring to it as his “best friend out there,” lending credence to the old adage that the goalpost is every goaltender’s best friend.

Toronto lost one of its top forwards Blaine Manning to a broken collarbone that left them with only three right-handed forwards.  Rock head coach Troy Cordingley said that they expect to be without Manning for 6-8 weeks.  His streak of 177 consecutive games (including playoffs) looks to have come to an end.

Buffalo displayed a very balanced offensive attack with nine different players finding the back of the net, led by Luke Wiles with a hat trick in his Bandits debut.  The legendary John Tavares led the team with 8 points (2+6), including an empty-netter that sealed the game late.  The hat trick earned Wiles the distinction of donning the team’s kimono, worn by their most valuable player each game. 

Asked about his first time playing for the Bandits in Buffalo, Wiles said “the crowd is incredible…it’s quite the scene here and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.”

The other Bandits newcomers each made strong contributions of their own.  Kevin Buchanan scored a potential goal-of-the-year in a shorthanded situation late in the first half and added a second in the 4th quarter.  Transition players Kyle Sweeney and rookie Jeremy Thompson showed that they can play at both ends of the floor.  Veteran Mat Giles contributed with two goals of his own in his Bandit debut, while Jeff Cornwall was solid at the back.

Bandits defender Billy Dee Smith played his first game since the 2010 season, having missed all of last year with a knee injury.  “It felt great” he said, “really good to be back.”  And while he didn’t find himself on the score sheet, his focus is on the defensive side and he was quite pleased with his game there, “my job is to prevent goals” and he did well at that. 

The first half very even as both teams seemed to be feeling one another out and several lead changes, ending with Toronto leading 6-5.  There was much more offense coming in the second half, with goals coming in bunches.

After the Bandits scored three quick goals to start the second half, the Rock answered back with two goals in 12 seconds.  It was at this point with the game knotted at eight that Thompson came up with the aforementioned superb save and this proved to be the turning point of the game.  The Bandits scored two more quick ones on the transition to take a 10-8 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Early in the final stanza the Bandits found themselves with a 5-minute power play, during which they converted twice giving them a 12-8 lead and they did not look back from there.  Buchanan’s second goal of the game capped off the Bandits 5-goal surge and essentially put the game away.

The Rock made it close towards the end, drawing to 13-10 on a very odd play where players on both teams stopped due to an “inadvertent horn.” 

But the Bandits were able to shut down it down from there to hang on for the victory.

The faster pace of the game brought about by several off-season rule changes was clearly evident, particularly players’ ability to scoop up a dead-ball on the run from anywhere on the floor and have it blown in immediately.  Several Bandits players commented on the increased pace in post-game interviews, adding that they thought the strength and conditioning regime instituted by Coach Kilgour has them in great shape to handle the added speed. 

Rock goaltender Matt Roik did not have his best game between the pipes, allowing 14 goals on just 37 shots, leaving Rock fans thinking of days of Bob Watson.  While few of the goals could be considered soft, he did not make the big saves that his counterpart did on the other end of the floor. 

The defending champions are now 0-2 to start their 2012 season, but it would be unwise to count them out.  Coach Cordingley said that the despite their rough start, the locker room is doing ok.  He thought they played a pretty good game, but “took four minutes off and had some major brain cramps” suggesting that many of the Bandits goals were due to his players’ mistakes. 

“Any time you can beat a division rival it’s [going to] be huge,” Coach Kilgour said.  For Bandits fans, there is no love lost in this rivalry and they made themselves heard throughout the game, particularly in the fourth quarter. 

The Bandits next game is on the road against Rochester on January 21st, while the Rock are off next week and will face that same Rochester squad back home in Toronto on the 27th.

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