The Buffalo Bandits (2-3) played host to the Vancouver Stealth (1-4) on “Hometown Heroes Night” at the KeyBank Center in front of 12,610 fans on Saturday night. On a night where the Bandits celebrated their local first responders, emergency workers and military personnel, it was the visiting team that emerged victorious.
“I think we’d had one win against Buffalo in about six years, we looked at that stat coming in today,” said Stealth head coach Jamie Batley. “I thought we played well and it felt good to get into the win column.”
The Bandits got out to a near perfect start. Dhane Smith scored on Buffalo’s first shot of the game and quickly followed up with another. Callum Crawford scored on the powerplay to cap the scoring. Alex Buque turned away all 13 Vancouver shots and the Bandits took a 3-0 lead into the second.
Eric Penney, the Stealth goaltender who was just pulled up to the active roster with Tye Belanger going on Injured Reserve, kept Vancouver in the game with big saves early in the game.
“He kept us in the game early, it would’ve been real easy to fold up the tents down 3-0, but our guys rallied,” said Batley of Penney. “Our offense hadn’t been producing this year, but we knew it was just a matter of time. Finally, Corey Small got us going and we were in the game after that.”
Small certainly got the Stealth going. A five goal Vancouver run was started with a natural hat trick by Small. Rhys Duch and Logan Schuss each added a goal and gave the Stealth a 5-3 lead. Kevin Brownell responded for Buffalo with two late goals in transition and the game went to half with the teams tied 5-5.
“Lacrosse has always been a game of runs, especially in the NLL, it’s fast.,” said Bandits forward Mitch Jones. “As an offense we went a bit cold and that got them back in the game and ahead of us.”
“We’re still battling consistency. We had a phenomenal first quarter, the ball was swinging and we were getting good opportunities, then we stopped doing that,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “I think the defense played almost the whole second quarter. We got into an eight minute funk and they scored five goals on us.”
Schuss and Joel McCready opened up a 7-5 lead for the Stealth in the third, but Vaughn Harris scored the first two goals of his NLL career to tie it at seven. Small found the net for the fourth time and the third ended with Vancouver up 8-7.
The Stealth opened their lead back to two goals when Schuss found the back of the net. Jones and Josh Byrne tied the game up, but Duch scored to give Vancouver the lead back. With a hard push at the end of regulation, the Bandits forced several turnovers and Jones scored with 22 seconds to go to tie the game at 10 and send it to overtime.
After each team had a few possessions, McCready fired a shot from Buque’s right side that beat the goaltender and gave the Stealth their first win of the season.
“We had a run heading into overtime, I felt confident heading in. Our defense was getting stops,” said Jones. “It happened quickly. It comes down to a game of inches and they got the last inch.”
The Stealth’s strong effort didn’t surprise the Bandits coaching staff.
”We talked all week about how this team would be hungry. After getting embarrassed at home they came and played extremely well,” said Cordingley. “Obviously they had something to prove and they did.”
Buffalo had been a good home team so far this season with both of their wins coming at the KeyBank Center. A loss at home stings even worse, especially with three tough road games against the Saskatchewan Rush, Rochester Knighthawks and New England Black Wolves coming up. The Bandits are currently 0-2 on the road.
Bandits rookie Vaughn Harris made his NLL debut and scored two goals. Buffalo defenseman Matthew Bennett went down with a leg injury that Cordingley said “doesn’t look good.”
Corey Small led all runners with eight points (4+4) while Logan Schuss had seven (3+4). Dhane Smith (2+2) and Callum Crawford (1+3) each had four points for Buffalo.
Buffalo will travel to Saskatchewan to take on the Rush on Friday, January 19 at 8:30P.M. EST while Vancouver will travel to Colorado to take on the Mammoth on Friday, January 26 at 9:30P.M. EST.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1 – Corey Small
2 – Logan Schuss
3 – Vaughn Harris