The Buffalo Bandits (6-5) used a second-half comeback against its East Division rival Toronto Rock (9-2) in an emotional game on Friday night at First Niagara Center. Tempers ran hot at the end of the fourth quarter after Buffalo turned an 11-7 deficit into a 15-12 victory. These same two teams square off Saturday night in Toronto at Air Canada Centre.
Ryan Benesch led all runners with nine points (4+5). Mark Steenhuis added seven points (2+5) and Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo had five assists. Alex Kedoh Hill proved to be a deciding factor with four points (4+0) including a natural hat trick in the fourth quarter to help Buffalo gain the lead for good.
“It was just my time to shoot I guess,” Hill said. “I was in the right place at the right time. My teammates made great passes and found me when I was open.”
Rob Hellyer, who leads the NLL in scoring with 79 points (28+51), contributed eight points (2+6) for the Rock. Stephan Leblanc had six points (2+4) and Josh Sanderson tallied five points (2+3) in the effort.
Both teams knew transition would be a key to the game. Buffalo and Toronto both tried to control the pace of the game with quick outlet passes and fast changes.
“We let it slip away. When you’re up four goals you should be able to hang on,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “At the end, Buffalo was able to score at least five in their transition game and that’s not acceptable for us.”
Toronto’s power play once again proved to be lethal as they went 6-for-7 on the night.
“We have intelligent players who shoot the ball well,” added Lovell. “I think our power play kept us in the game today.”
After scoring five goals against Toronto back on January 23rd, Benesch was able to pot four goals on Friday. He finds himself sixth in the NLL in scoring and was excited about topping the best team in the league.
“It was a character win,” said the Bandits forward. “To come back, especially on the league’s best team, shows what kind of team we have here.
Saturday marked the second win in a row for the Bandits, both featuring a strong fourth quarter to close out the game. Early in the season, Buffalo struggled in the last frame, but their head coach Troy Cordingley liked what he saw in game one of the home-and-home.
“They played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They played with positive emotion,” said Cordingley. “We battled and we beat a very, very good team tonight.”
John Tavares played in his 300th career game Friday night. He chalked up two goals and an assist.
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.