The Buffalo Bandits (2-1) doubled up the Toronto Rock (0-4) with a 12-6 home win in front of 13,395 fans at First Niagara Center on Saturday night. The visitors held a 4-3 lead in the second quarter until Buffalo went on a seven-goal run and never looked back against its East Division rival.
The Rock opened the game with a 2-0 lead after goals from Bill Hostrawser and Stephan Leblanc. Dhane Smith and Mark Steenhuis answered back for the Bandits to tie the game. Rob Hellyer and Daryl Veltman traded tallies to end the first quarter with the score at 3-3.
A goal from Kevin Ross gave Toronto a 4-3 lead before Buffalo ripped off a five-goal run (Kevin Brownell, Ryan Benesch, Alex Kedoh Hill, Mitch Jones and Smith) to take an 8-4 lead into halftime.
Smith scored his third goal of the game before Benesch scored his second to open a six-goal lead for Buffalo. Ross found the back of the net and the third quarter ended with the Bandits in control, 10-5.
Goals from Steenhuis and Smith for Buffalo and another tally from Leblanc for Toronto saw the game conclude 12-6 in favor of the Bandits.
Buffalo seemed to hit full stride in all three phases of the game and their Head Coach Troy Cordingley was pleased with what he saw.
“The first five or six minutes we kind of struggled, but then we got into a flow. After that I liked our game. We were playing like a team,” said Cordingley. “We had energy. We were doubling the ball on their offensive players. We really did a good job of pushing the ball, we created chances to score.”
Buffalo’s transition game was once again key, especially since their offense struggled to break through the tight defense Toronto started the game with. Having the luxury of a transition group that can score is something Coach Cordingley is grateful for.
“Your first offense is your transition. I like our transition game. Our defense gets up the floor really well,” added the Bandits coach. “Once our defense got up the ball up the field, we started to have energy and get to the middle.”
Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo backstopped the team with 37 saves on 43 shots, posting a .860 save percentage. He was quick to credit his defense for their strong effort.
“I thought this was our best defensive outing in a long time. We really forced their team, dictated what we wanted to be done and brought players down the wall, allowing me to see the ball and make easy saves,” Cosmo said with a smile. “We preach all the time, hard pressure on the ball and make guys pay. We did that under control. We pounded them but stayed out of the box.”
The turning point of the game may have been two straight Toronto goals overturned by Buffalo challenges which sprung the Bandits into a seven goal run.
“We definitely felt a swing [from the two overturned goals]. Those hurt the other team for sure,” said Bandits forward Dhane Smith. “We’ve done a better job than last year [limiting runs against]. We have the same group offensively as last year and it shows.”
Toronto’s offensive struggles continued in Buffalo. After scoring just 19 goals through three games, the Rock only mustered six goals in ‘Banditland.’ They made some lineup changes coming in to the game, but still couldn’t solve their offensive woes.
“All the guys are giving us effort, we had some quality looks tonight. The ball just isn’t falling for us right now,” said Rock assistant coach Blaine Manning. “The guys are trying to score, they’re working hard and listening to the game plan. We just have to continue to work through it.”
Buffalo returns to action when they visit the New England Black Wolves on January 30th. Toronto will play host to the Georgia Swarm on January 29th.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Mark Steenhuis
3) Anthony Cosmo
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.