Having played an extremely light early season scheduled, the Buffalo Bandits, despite being defending Eastern Conference champions, entered their Saturday night matchup with the Georgia Swarm as a bit of an unknown for the 2020 season.
Following an impressive 16-10 victory over the Swarm, in which they welcomed two players back from the injured list (Chase Fraser, and Steve Priolo) it’s safe to say they’re a fairly known commodity at this point.
The questions, however, moved over to the home team’s locker room where they have taken up residence. After beginning the year with a pair of easy victories over the league’s newest clubs, the last couple of games for the Swarm against stronger competition have gone very, very differently.
A paltry final quarter two weeks ago against the Colorado Mammoth led to the first Swarm loss of the season and there seemed to be a bit of a hangover against Buffalo on Saturday night.
Buffalo’s attack was relentless throughout the first half, but particularly in the first period where they notched half a dozen goals, as opposed to the Swarm only mustering a pair from Miles Thompson.
The Bandit’s offense was exceptionally balanced, and Swarm goalie Mike Poulin seemed to face an onslaught of shots from all over the floor. J.P. Kealey, getting his first start of the season scored first for the Bandits, and that was followed by Fraser announcing his return to the lineup with a goal of his own to put the Bandits up 2-0 early.
Thompson’s first goal of the game got the Swarm back within a goal, but then the Bandits ran off four unanswered goals, capped off by Dane Smith’s sixth of the year, to build a comfortable 6-1 margin before Thompson added his second of the period late in the first quarter to make it 6-2 after one frame.
The second quarter was more of the same. Fraser added yet another goal as the two teams were each playing a man down. Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier each matched their first period goal with another goal a piece in the second period, and the lead was pushed to 9-2.
The typically strong transition defense of the Swarm knew it would be tested against Buffalo, and it was safe to say that Ed Comeau’s club was not up to the task on this night. Following an Ian MacKay goal with just under a minute left in the first half, Kevin Brownell took the following faceoff and came to the net unimpeded and rifled a shot past Poulin to give the Bandits an improbable 11-3 advantage at the break.
Following a performance in which the Bandits gave up 15 total goals and goalie Mike Vinc was pulled from the net, the defensive turnaround was a welcomed sight for Buffalo. Though, for anyone who has followed Vinc, bouncing back from poor outings with a dominant one is nothing new for the netminder.
In the second half, the Swarm were much more respectable, actually out-scoring their opponents from the north 7-5. But it was clearly too little too late, as they allowed yet another transition goal early in the half to MacKay that made it 12-3.
The Swarm’s four third quarter goals, including a pair by Randy Staats, only put a small dent in the lead as the Bandits held serve by adding another pair themselves in the quarter to retain a very comfortable 14-7 lead heading into the final quarter.
Cloutier’s highlight reel goal that got him a hat trick stopped a 3-0 Georgia Swarm run, and seemed to squelch any momentum the home team was building up.
Not to be outdone, Fraser added his third goal of the game to join Cloutier with a hat track, and the aforementioned 14-7 lead had the Bandits in cruise control heading to the fourth period.
The Swarm scored three goals in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to pull within 14-10 and make things a little bit interesting. Two of those goals came from Shayne Jackson, giving the Swarm’s leading goal scorer on the year a hat trick and pushing him to a dozen goals on the year, while also taking over the team lead in overall points as well.
But a costly Georgia penalty immediately following the goal set up Buffalo on the powerplay, and the Buffalo special teams were indeed special on this particular evening. Corey Small’s powerplay goal halted yet another Swarm attempt to climb back in the game. The Bandits went on the powerplay four times and scored three goals, just another aspect of a very lackluster defensive performance by the Swarm.
With the score 15-10, Georgia tried to gear up for one more run at Buffalo, and it looked like the Bandits were going to assist them as Matt Spanger was called for a five minute major for slashing.
If the Swarm were to have any chance, they would have to capitalize on the mistake. But, as mentioned, the Buffalo special teams were outstanding in this contest, and not only did they manage to kill off the five minute penalty without allowing Georgia to get any closer, they added to their lead. Byrne managed to nab a shorthanded goal that would create the final margin of 16-10. Byrne’s goal was also his third, giving Buffalo a triad of players to post a hat trick in a dominant performance on the road against a team considered by many to be a title contender.
Vinc and his 44 saves were named the game’s third star, while Georgia’s Randy Staat’s was named the second after posting a hat trick on his own. Cloutier’s performance took center stage, both in visual appeal and on the stat sheet. His six points along with his show stopping goal at the end of the third period to end a Swarm run led to him being tabbed the game’s first star.
Buffalo will host rival the Toronto Rock next Saturday, and the Rock will come into the game with a 3-1 mark of their own against Buffalo’s 2-1 record.
The Swarm fall to 2-2, but relief might be in sight as next week they will travel to play the winless New York Riptide (0-4). Regardless of who they are playing, the defense will need to improve, or the Swarm could be looking at a very surprising sub .500 record nearly a third of the way into the season.