Davide DiRuscio earned his first career win in his first-ever start as the Buffalo Bandits (5-5) held off the Colorado Mammoth (4-4) by a score of 14-11 on WNY Heroes night at First Niagara Center in front of 14,669 fans. The back-and-forth game saw eight ties until the Bandits finally pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Adam Jones opened the game’s scoring on a delayed penalty before Alex Kedoh Hill scored two straight goals to give the Bandits a 2-1 lead. In his first game back from a calf injury, John Tavares scored on the power play to extend Buffalo’s lead to two. Drew Westervelt answered for Colorado and Jones added a power play goal to tie the game at three. Derek Suddons scored his first goal of the year to give Buffalo the lead back 4-3 and conclude the first quarter.
Steve Priolo gave Buffalo a 5-3 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter. John Grant, Jr. scored on the power play for Colorado to bring them back within one. Westervelt scored the Mammoth’s fourth goal with the man up to tie the game at five. Ryan Benesch scored his first goal of the game on a cut to the front of the net before Westervelt completed his hat trick to make the score 6-6 and wrap up the first half.
Buffalo struck first at the 12:14 mark of the third quarter with a Jerome Thompson goal. Mitch Wilde scored in transition to restore Buffalo’s two goal lead at 8-6. Grant added his second and third goals of the night to knot up the score at eight. With 6:57 to go in the third quarter, Jones gave the Mammoth their second lead of the night 9-8. Westervelt added another tally to extend Colorado’s lead to 10-8. Benesch, Mark Steenhuis and Kevin Brownell responded for the Bandits before Eli McLaughlin netted a goal and ended the third quarter with the score 11-11.
The fourth quarter saw goals from Benesch, Dhane Smith and Hill. The Bandits held Colorado off the score sheet for a 14-11 win.
The Bandits had struggled to finish games this season and had struggled to put together a strong fourth quarter. The fourth-quarter shutout was a welcome sight for Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley.
“We talked about it going into the fourth quarter,” he said. “We were playing well. We weren’t hoping to win, we knew we were going to win. I didn’t think our defense was very good in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, when it really mattered, coach (Rich) Kilgour grabbed a few guys and told them ‘it’s time to play’ and they did it.”
Cordingley also talked about their gameplan and how well the team stuck to it.
“We wanted to push the ball a lot,” said Cordingley. “We were managing the clock, we didn’t settle for throwing the ball at the net. We got back to the bench quickly on defense, too.”
Colorado goaltender Dillon Ward noticed the pace that Buffalo used in the game.
“I thought some of our turnovers were costly and led to fast breaks for them,” said Ward. “I think they really wanted to push the ball up the floor and they did.”
Four of Colorado’s first six goals came on the power play, but Buffalo got more disciplined as the game went on and kept the floor five-on-five.
“Our offense is pretty lethal. Our power play has been good all year,” added Ward. “Their defense shored up, but I thought our defense played well, too. It’s a game of turnovers and we may have turned the ball over too many times today.”
DiRuscio, an avid fishernman better known in lacrosse circles as “The Big Fish”, got his first NLL start Saturday night because of Anthony Cosmo being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List with a knee injury. The rookie was excited and had some nerves before his first start, but wound up being a hero for the Bandits.
“I was a little nervous at first,” DiRuscio admitted. “Settled in pretty quickly. In the second half, I felt a lot more comfortable. I found out early in the week that there was a pretty good chance I could start this weekend. I got ready all week.”
DiRuscio stopped 36 of the 47 shots he faced in the win.
Bandits transition player Alex Kedoh Hill continues to impress and put up stats (3+1). He was also selected as the game’s first star. His first two shots found the back of the net and got the Bandits started early.
“Even when I was shooting around before the game, I was excited,” Hill said. “Troy told me I’d have a chance to play more offense today. I’m just going to keep playing hard. My third goal came at a close part of the game. If they would’ve scored, they might have gone on a roll. When we scored, it might have brought them down a couple notches.”
Bandits legend John Tavares (1+3), the league’s all-time leading scorer, returned to the lineup after missing six games. It also was his season debut at home and league-record 300th career game. Mark Steenhuis played his 200th career game for the Bandits while Colorado’s John Grant, Jr. recorded his 700th career assist in the losing effort.
Buffalo returns to action in two weeks when they’ll host the Toronto Rock on March 13th. Colorado hosts the same Toronto team on March 6th.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Alex Kedoh Hill
2) Mark Steenhuis
3) David Disruscio
Written by Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.