The Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits entertained fans with some bonus lacrosse on Friday night at Scotiabank Arena as 60 minutes wasn’t enough to decide a winner between the rivals.
But it didn’t take much longer than 60 minutes – Brandon Slade beat Matt Vinc with the OT winner just 1:08 into the extra period to give the Rock a 12-11 win.
It was Slade’s second goal of the game after he tied the game at 11 with 3:30 to go in regulation.
“Honestly I was just kinda gassed out there,” Slade said post-game. “The boys were going hard and battling all game. We knew we needed this one. I kinda blacked out [after I scored].”
This was Slade’s first two-goal game in the NLL. Though he started as a defenseman with the Rock, the offensive prowess he’s shown over the season prompted head coach Matt Sawyer to move him up, where he does have quite a bit of experience. He’s collected 10 goals this season, none bigger than his two tonight.
“Brandon’s had a lot of big game experience,” Sawyer said. “He played all summer with the Oakville Rock on the left side. He’s someone that… we have a soft spot for. He is somebody that has made himself into what he is.”
The win moves Toronto just a game and a half back of both Georgia and Buffalo for top spot in the East Division. Toronto has a game in hand on both teams, although they will face the Rochester Knighthawks tonight at Blue Cross Arena.
“We’re hoping to still move up in the standings and we had no opportunity without a win [Friday],” Sawyer said. “Rochester still has an opportunity to (make playoffs); mathematically they could still catch New England. I’m sure we’ll get their best and it’s always a tough place to play.”
Corey Small opened the scoring 24 seconds into the game to give the Bandits a 1-0 lead. That held until Johnny Powless scored on a power play at 7:36. Buffalo came back with goals from Dhane Smith and Kevin Brownell then scored to give Buffalo the 3-1 lead, but Toronto didn’t stay down long. Adam Jones’ return to the Rock’s left side meant the ball was flying between their forwards. Jones passed the ball to both Dan Lintner and Rob Hellyer to tie the game 3-3 after the first.
Jones scored a classic overhand shot from the left side to give Toronto its first lead 3:35 into the second. Small replied with his second of the game but Hellyer pumped out two more for a 6-4 lead at halftime. Tom Schreiber made a behind-the-back pass to Hellyer who lobbed in an underhand shot, and then Hellyer picked a corner shorthanded for the two-goal lead.
Rock goaltender Nick Rose held the Bandits to four goals in the first half, but his counterpart in the Bandits’ net, six-time NLL goaltender of the year Matt Vinc, was just as good in holding the Rock to six.
Rose wasn’t surprised that the game came down to the last shot, and said he could have predicted a close game.
“Two evenly matched teams. Two of the top teams in our division. That’s how it usually goes when you’re playing Vinc,” Rose said. “He’s pretty well the best goaltender in the world so you know you have to be on top of your game. It was a good back-and-forth battle but I’m glad my team came out on top.”
Each goaltender made 40 saves during the game.
Coming out of the half, the Rock intended to keep the pressure on, but instead it was the Bandits who came out on fire with a four-goal run to take an 8-6 lead by the 9:26 mark, with Dhane Smith and Chris Cloutier each tallying twice.
Powless and Jones each scored their second goals of the game to tie the game at eight after three quarters.
“[Buffalo’s] the deepest team in the league [with goal scoring]. I think they had five guys over 20 goals coming into tonight and Dhane’s always a handful,” Sawyer said. “It was good to see us not get too discouraged in that situation and find a way to claw our way back.”
The fourth quarter had fans on their feet in the playoff-like atmosphere. Smith and Dan Craig traded early goals for a 9-9 tie. Smith’s fifth goal of the game came as he wove through Rock defenders to beat Rose at the four-minute mark. Bandits’ captain Steve Priolo added what he probably thought was insurance with a transition goal at 8:53.
Slade said the Rock coaching staff is always preaching that the players keep an even keel.
“This game is a game of runs, so we just knew we had to stick with it… if we stay composed things will work out in our favour,” Slade said.
And they did work out in the Rock’s favour, as Hellyer’s hat trick goal got them back within one goal as he let a shot go up the middle through traffic at 10:31. Fifty-nine seconds later Scotiabank Arena was rocking as Slade took advantage of an out of position Shawn Evans stuck on defense. Slade wove right past Matt Spanger and then Evans to get to the net for the game-tying goal.
“They had an offensive guy there [and Dan Craig and I] had a two-man game there so I just thought I’d try them and take it to the net and it worked out.”
Rose made a big save off Dhane Smith to start the overtime period.
The Rock are right back in action tonight at 7 p.m. against the Knighthawks. Next Friday they are back at home to host the New England Black Wolves. Then they have a bye week before finishing the regular season with a visit to the Vancouver Warriors on April 26th.