It was a high scoring affair at Key Bank Center Friday night, as the Buffalo Bandits came out on top in overtime against the Rochester Knighthawks 16-15. While the final minutes proved to be a nail biter, it wasn’t always that way. Buffalo controlled the tempo and held a 7-3 lead going into halftime, but Rochester never gave up the fight and came out swinging to start the second half.
“This was a character win, it wasn’t pretty,” said Bandits offensive coach Rusty Kruger. “They [Rochester] worked hard and they pushed us. Every time they scored our offense seemed to answer right back, and we handled the adversity well.”
The Knighthawks seemed stagnant out of the gate. Guys like Josh Byrne (2g,4a) and Chris Cloutier (4g,4a) were able to bury some beautiful goals early on in the contest to give Buffalo a build up of momentum. If any one event could have described the state of Rochester’s first half play, it was when Chris Willman missed a loose ball off the rebound, and hit the ball into the back of his own net giving Buffalo a 4-1 lead. The Knighthawk offense seemed spread too thin, and along with the stellar play of Matt Vinc between the pipes, was not creating too many opportunities.
That all changed when the whistle blew to open the second half. Holden Cattoni (3g,6a) buried two straight goals, and that would be the start of a much needed five goal run from the Hawks. Matt Gilray (1g) was able to finally stop that run with a nice transition goal, and followed up with a laser from Dhane Smith (4g,7a). By the end of the third, Buffalo ended up being outscored 8-2 in the quarter, certainly a tale of two halfs in the making.
“Great teams find a way to win,” said Smith. “Every team is great in this league, and so it’s those little battles that count. We got out worked tonight and we’re lucky we got the win […] we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and get better.”
The Bandits went into the final quarter of play down by one at 11-10. They started to regain their edge with Smith once again finding the back of the net, along with a goal from defenseman Nick Weiss (1g,1a). Curtis Knight (3g,2a) answered back with two straight of his own in what would be a recurring theme in the fourth, as the Hawks seemed to never be able to fully take control of the game.
Former Bandit Shawn Evans (4g,3a) gave Rochester the go-ahead goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Buffalo knew that once they got the ball back, they needed to draw something up to bury it and force overtime, and with under 30 seconds remaining and a time out called, they got that opportunity.
“We figured they were going to take away Dhane on that one,” Kruger said on what would be the game tying play. “That freed up Cloutier and he was able to walk right down and get a great look.”
For Smith, he read the Rochester D and figured the double was coming.
“I noticed the first time we pulled our goalie they were kind of blocking me off,” said Smith. “I told our guys that they were going to lock me off again and leave one guy open, and they left the wrong guy open for sure because Cloutier put it home.”
To start out overtime Rochester was able to get a few healthy possessions in, but Vinc came up strong for Buffalo. Then, a minute and a half into overtime, Hawks defenseman Paul Dawson took a costly holding penalty in front of the crease, and gave that gave the Bandits the edge they knew they needed to win. Dhane Smith was able to find Corey Small (2g) on the back lefty side, and the forward from St. Catharines, ON was able to bury it for his second overtime game winner in a row.
“That goal was about 80% Dhane Smith, and about 20% me,” Small joked as he recounted the overtime winning goal. “He made the play call on the bench and told me to find a lane on the backside and get my stick open, and that’s pretty much how it happened. Dhane does a great job of drawing the goalie out of the net and opening up those backside quick sticks for me.”
The divisional win pushes Buffalo to 5-1 on the season, and with Halifax losing the same night, makes things much more interesting in the North Division standings. Rochester drops to 1-6, but with the way they were able to fight and come back in the second half, they have nothing to hang their heads at. They’ll be back in action at home on the 9th against Vancouver, while the Bandits will pay a visit to the Warriors two days prior.