Rochester's Pat McCready defending against Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis
In front of a packed house for their home opener, the Rochester Knighthawks came up short in the latest installment of the Interstate 90 rivalry.
The Buffalo Bandits stayed undefeated after defeating the Knighthawks 12-9 on Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena.
Trailing 6-5 in the third quarter, the Bandits went on a 7-1 run to take an insurmountable lead and deny the Knighthawks a 2-0 start to the season.
“We stuck around. We played well for most of the game but they went on a bit of a run there in crunch time,” said Rochester defenseman Sid Smith. “That’s what won it for them.”
The first quarter was a tight defensive battle. Buffalo goaltender Mike Thompson, the reigning NLL defender of the week, went toe-to-toe with the reigning NLL goaltender of the year in Rochester’s Matt Vinc. Both teams were robbed of goals thanks to some solid play between the pipes.
“I think we played a decent game for the most part,” said Vinc. “We just lost focus for three or four minutes and it really killed us tonight. We stay of out the penalty box, limit their runs in the fourth quarter, we have a chance to win that game.”
Rookie Stephen Keogh found the back of the net for the Knighthawks’ only goal of the opening quarter. After a six-point performance in his debut against Philadelphia last Saturday, Keogh answered an early goal from the Bandits’ Luke Wiles.
“There was a lot of unsettled situations. Both teams were pushing the ball pretty good so there wasn’t a lot of five-on-five to start, especially in the first half,” said Knighthawks defender Kyle Laverty.
Offenses began to heat up in the last few minutes before the half with both teams combining for five goals in a 2:07 span as Buffalo (2-0) took a 4-3 lead at the break.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way,” said Rochester’s Cody Jamieson. “They did their game plan very well. They knew what we wanted to do. They executed their defense better than we executed our offense.”
Rochester scored three unanswered goals in the third quarter to take their only lead of the contest. Transition player of the week Jordan Hall tied the game at 5-all before former Bandit Mike Accursi gave Rochester (1-1) a one-goal lead.
“Everybody was excited to have a home opener. It’s an emotional game so guys tend to do things that they are not used too,” said Accursi. “Everything went perfect in (last Saturday’s 22-12 win in) Philadelphia. I think we just got to get back to basics.”
The Knighthawks saw their slim lead vanish when Tavares tied the game at 6. Tavares helped the Bandits’ offense take over the game late by tallying four of his eight points (four goals, four assists) in the fourth quarter.
“Johnny’s scored a lot of goals in this league because he shoots all four corners of the net,” said Vinc. “He’s been the best player in this league for a long time now and he showed the reason why tonight.”
Now in his second season as Rochester’s head coach, Mike Hasen has had the chance to not only play against the Bandits, but also call the shots against them as well.
“Most games, it’s a good game, it’s a tight game. It’s been that way since ’96 when Rochester got here,” Hasen said about the I-90 rivalry. “It’s one that won’t go away, that’s for sure.”
Jamieson led Rochester with two goals and two assists. Hall finished with one goal and two assists, and Vinc made 36 saves on 48 shots.
The Knighthawks have a tough weekend road trip coming up next. They head north to face the Toronto Rock on Friday at 7 p.m. ET. Then on Saturday, they’ll travel west for a 9 p.m. ET game against the unbeaten Colorado Mammoth.
“I think our biggest thing is getting our feet moving again,” Hasen said about what the team needs to work on in practice. “We were really caught flat-footed. Offensively and defensively, we were watching the Bandits play tonight.”