The Edmonton Rush (7-5) continued their surge up the standings, earning their fourth-straight victory with a dominating 14-7 dismantling of the Buffalo Bandits (5-7) before 16,629 fans at First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
“I thought we played a pretty complete game,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan.
For Buffalo, it was anything but a complete game.
“We were in trouble from the first minute to the last minute,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “We didn’t play well in pretty much all aspects of the game. I’m just at a loss. Getting outworked at home is getting real old.”
The relative situations for these teams are polar opposites, with Edmonton riding a four-game winning streak and Buffalo mired in a four-game losing streak, looking for answers. On top of that, Buffalo has dropped its last five games at home.
“I’ve been changing my message for three years now and obviously I haven’t found the message that gets through to these guys,” Kilgour said. “It’s frustrating.”
The physicality of the Rush was on display all night long as they imposed their will on Buffalo in several facets of the game.
“That seems to start with our defensive end; we’re a real athletic team back there, we tend to take away time and space quickly,” Keenan said. “At the other end of the floor, we’ve got a little bit of everything. We’ve got some size, we have some quickness, we have good perimeter presence and we have good interior presence too.”
Rush defenseman Chris Corbeil made his first appearance in Buffalo since being traded by the Bandits to Edmonton prior to the 2012 season in exchange for a first and second round draft pick.
“I’m very happy with the results tonight,” said the Oakville, Ontario native. “Any win is a good win in this league, especially with a short 16-game season. But when you can do it against your former team that traded you away, it’s extra special.”
Early on it was as if everything went right for Edmonton and wrong for Buffalo. This sense was epitomized on the Rush’s second goal on which an errant pass bounced off Buffalo defenseman Mike McNamara, off Cosmo, off the post and in the goal.
Keenan thought this odd play may have been an early turning point for his team as the guys on the bench look at each other and thought “this might be our night.”
“I didn’t think we were great early on offense,” he said. “We stood around a little bit and I think [that goal maybe turned it around].”
From there, Cosmo’s time in goal would not last long, as he was pulled early in the second quarter after allowing six goals on 17 shots.
Kurtis Wagar played admirably in relief of Cosmo, keeping the game respectable with several acrobatic saves. He would not last the full evening either, however, as Kilgour turned back to Cosmo late in the third quarter. All in all, Wagar allowed 7 goals on 32 shots while Cosmo allowed seven goals on 31 shots.
Rush rookie Mark Matthews continued his impressive freshman campaign by scoring one goal and adding three assists. He scored a highlight-reel diving goal and manufactured Edmonton’s third goal when, just before the shot clock expired, he banked the ball off the back wall to teammate Corey Small, who buried it with just one second on the shot clock.
“That is a Mark Matthews play; it isn’t scripted, but he purposely did that,” Keenan said. “That’s the kind of talent he is and the way he thinks the game. I’m standing on the bench going ‘I can’t believe that just happened.’”
Small led all scorers with seven points (4+3), seeming to find himself in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions and burying the chances when presented.
“He’s been our most consistent guy all year,” Keenan said of his diminutive forward. “It was great for him to perform that well here [in Buffalo]. I think it’s his first time playing here; he’s from [nearby] St. Catharines and I’m sure he had lots of friends and family here.”
At just 5’10”, he and Curtis Knight (3+1) are two of the shortest players on the team. Along with 5’9” Ryan Ward (1+4), the three players combined for 16 points tonight.
Once again, Buffalo was outworked in the loose ball battle, scooping 76 to Edmonton’s 96. The difference was most visible with the multiple second and third offensive opportunities the Rush created, while the Bandits often had just one chance each trip down the floor.
“We were watching a lot of the game,” Kilgour said. “We’ve got to get our compete level up.”
On the other hand, Keenan could not be more pleased with his team’s level of compete.
“We put a lot of emphasis on [loose balls],” he said. “We were in a hole not that long ago at 1-4 [record] and the message the last little while has been ‘I don’t want you to ever forget that and lose sight of how hard we worked to get out of that hole.’ And that’s exactly the compete level on loose balls and the speed that we bring into that area.”
Bandits newcomer Alex Kedoh Hill led Buffalo’s otherwise stagnant offensive attack with a hat trick in his debut after being acquired from Rochester at the NLL trade deadline in exchange for veteran defenseman Scott Self.
“He was awesome, played great, best player on the floor tonight,” said Kilgour, the only positive comment he was willing to make.
“I grew up watching the Bandits and I always dreamt about playing here and I had the opportunity tonight,” Kedoh Hill said. “I just wish we would have gotten the win out of it.”
While the Bandits search for answers, the Rush have very little time to enjoy the victory as they visit the Toronto Rock (8-3) on Sunday for a 3 p.m. ET matinee against the league’s top team. With Colorado’s overtime loss to Calgary, the Rush have the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Rock.