On the second stop of the Thruway Rivalry, the Rochester Knighthawks (4-2) stormed out to a 5-0 halftime lead, then weathered a second-half comeback from the Buffalo Bandits (5-2) for a 9-6 home win before a crowd of 9,280 at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night.
Coming off two-straight road losses, the return to the friendly confines of the BCA was welcome for the Knighthawks, but not for the Bandits.
“We didn't expect to go on that two-game losing streak,” said Knighthawks forward and second star of the game Cody Jamieson. “This is our home arena and we've got to protect it. We're playing well at home.”
“Last time we played them, they took it to us,” said Rochester coach Mike Hasen. “We didn't want that to happen this week, and we came out with a purpose.”
“We're in Rochester's park,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingly said after the game. “It's a tough place to win.”
It took 10:31 into the first quarter, but Rochester broke the deadlock with a short-handed goal from Joe Walters while Cory Vitarelli sat in the box. That goal is the latest opening goal in the NLL so far this season. The Knighthawks went on to score four goals in the second quarter to take a commanding 5-0 lead into the half.
It was a first half unlike the last two games, where the Knighthawks had to fight back from early deficits. Goalie Matt Vinc looked like a brick wall in net at times, leaving the Bandits nothing to shoot at.
“First half was pretty bad,” Bandits forward Ryan Benesch said. “We weren't taking very good shots, we weren't moving the ball very well on offense.”
“We're used to Vno playing that way,” transition player Brad Self said. “He was making the stops again tonight and it's no different than any other night.”
Vinc was quick to credit his teammates in front of him, though. “They did a great job limiting (the Bandits) time and space,” Vinc said. “Really put their 'O' guys on their heels and that makes my job a lot easier.”
However, the Bandits came out of the half determined to not have a repeat of the first half. They netted four goals in the span of three and a half minutes to draw back within one.
“We know they are a good team and they're going to come at us and get their runs,” Vinc said. “We were just fortunate that our offense was able to pick it up and get a run of our own late in the game.”
Jamieson halted Buffalo's run at 14:49 in the third quarter on the power play. Vitarelli then opened the scoring in the fourth quarter just 1:06 in the restore the three goal lead at 7-4. From there, the Bandits and the Knighthawks traded goals until Buffalo halted any chance of a comeback with John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis taking frustration penalties 22 seconds apart with the game within reach.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Matt Vinc (33 saves on 39 shots, 6 goals allowed)
2) Cody Jamieson (1 goal and 3 assists)
3) Cory Vitarelli (3 goals)