The Buffalo Bandits (2-1) held on for a 14-13 road win over the Vancouver Stealth (1-2) in a back-and-forth instant classic at Langley Events Centre on Saturday night. In the spotlight as the only NLL game in Week 3, Dhane Smith (5+3) and Ryan Benesch (3+4) shined the brightest for the Bandits with eight points and seven points respectively. John Tavares made his presence felt in his return to the lineup with four assists, and Joe Resetarits chipped in with three goals. Anthony Cosmo picked up his second win of the season with 27 saves on 40 shots.
“We answered at the right time,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s a tough game to come and play against a team that was real hungry especially after their last game. It was a big focus tonight to get our offense off the floor during their transition game. We did a real good job at that.”
Vancouver’s Rhys Duch equaled Smith on the score sheet, recording eight points with two goals and six assists. Johnny Powless had six assists, Tyler Digby and Lewis Ratcliff each picked up three goals and an assist, and Tyler Richards stopped 41 of 55 shots in the loss.
“We competed hard,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “It was just mistakes. We took a couple delay of games penalties in a tight game. We did have some great efforts. ‘T-Rich’ made some fantastic saves and we had some great individual efforts. But when you make mistakes early, it’s hard to get that goal back.”
With just 17 goals over the team’s first two contests, Buffalo picked up the pace in Vancouver and nearly doubled their season scoring total. Smith and Benesch both rose to the occasion and elevated the play of those around them, and players such as Tavares and Jerome Thompson excelled off the ball in setting up opportunities for their teammates.
After Benesch and Cliff Smith gave each side a score to open the game, Buffalo rattled off three goals over a 1:15 stretch with Mitch Wilde, Joe Resetarits, and Smith all contributing. Vancouver retaliated quickly, as Duch cashed in on the power-play with Wilde in the box before Tyler Digby brought the Stealth within one. Benesch and Steve Priolo helped set up Smith for his second goal of the night as Buffalo ended the first quarter with a quick 5-3 lead.
Lewis Ratcliff opened the scoring in the second quarter for Vancouver, but Smith did not have to wait long to earn a hat trick. With Alex Kedoh Hill streaking on a shorthanded breakaway for Buffalo, Vancouver was called for a too-many-men penalty as the defense attempted to counter the Bandits opportunity. Smith capitalized on the penalty shot awarded to Buffalo, patiently walking in before beating Richards on the stick side.
Vancouver hung in through the second quarter and brought the game back to a 6-6 tie with a power-play tally from Joel McCready and a goal from Justin Salt. While Buffalo struggled on their first two power plays of the game, Smith cashed in on the team’s third chance, finishing the first half with four goals. Resetarits and Benesch added their second goals of the game to send Buffalo into halftime leading 9-6.
Ratcliff found the hot hand early in the second half for Vancouver, picking up two consecutive goals to keep the Stealth in the game. Buffalo regained their three-goal lead as a pair of players picked up their first NLL goals. Brandon Goodwin, playing near his hometown of New Westminster, B.C., scored an unassisted tally before Jerome Thompson buried a transition opportunity for the Bandits.
The second half see-saw battle continued with Buffalo and Vancouver taking turns on two-goal runs. Digby and Conrad Chapman, with his first career NLL goal, brought Vancouver within one in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Smith and Benesch retaliated quickly for Buffalo to reestablish the three-goal lead, but McCready and Duch wasted little time bringing the Stealth back within one.
With four minutes to play, Benesch was knocked down by two Stealth defenders and got caught up in a chase for the loose ball. Resetarits joined the action and collected the loose ball, firing a short-side shot past Richards to complete his hat trick with the eventual game-winner.
Vancouver took over for the final three minutes and made Buffalo work on defense until the final buzzer. After Thompson was assessed a minor penalty, Digby picked up his third goal of the game to give the Stealth a chance to tie the game in the final minutes.
With the closing seconds ticking down, Powless had the final shot on net for the Stealth. The former Rochester Knighthawk found a crease in the defense and tried to beat Cosmo over the goaltender’s right shoulder. The Buffalo netminder stood tall, making the save before Buffalo collected the loose ball to seal the victory.
“They came up and set the pick, I faked low but I just have to score on my chances next time,” Powless said.
“The guys didn’t quit,” Perreault said. “They kept working right until the final buzzer. We had a great look at the end but didn’t score.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Ryan Benesch
3) Joel McCready
Buffalo travels back north of the border for the Toronto Rock (2-0) home opener at Air Canada Centre in Week 4 on Friday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET while Vancouver heads to Pepsi Center in Denver for a meeting with the Colorado Mammoth (2-0) on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. ET.