After a season-opening loss to the New England Black Wolves on Friday and a slight travel delay headed back, the Buffalo Bandits (1-1) returned home and pulled out a hard-fought 9-8 win over the Edmonton Rush (0-1) before 14,326 fans at First Niagara Center on Saturday night. The meeting marked only the second time the Rush had visited “Banditland” and only the teams’ fifth meeting all time.
An early surprise came as the starting rosters were revealed when Bandits captain John Tavares was scratched. Back-to-back games often lead to a rest for the ageless phenom, but many were surprised to see him sitting for Buffalo’s home opener.
Bandits Head Coach Troy Cordingley explained that Tavares was scratched for a planned rest day and that their other scratch, Andrew Watt is nursing a lower body injury that he suffered in warmups.
The Bandits started off the scoring early on a gritty goal by Ryan Benesch on the team’s first shot of the game. The Rush followed with three-straight goals of their own to take a 3-1 lead. Buffalo native Joe Resetarits scored the last goal of the first quarter for the Bandits to cut the Rush’s lead to one.
Benesch would continue to show up on the score sheet scoring four of the Bandits’ six first-half goals, allowing Buffalo to take a 6-3 lead into the half. His strong offensive presence on the left side helped fill the hole left by the scratched Tavares.
Benesch talked about his offensive output in which he scored a game-high five goals.
“It was okay,” he said modestly. “I should have had a couple more, but you can’t score on them all.”
Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo had another strong showing. He went 35:53 of game clock without giving up a goal from the first quarter to the third quarter, stopping a total of 42 of the 50 shots he faced. The biggest save he made was with 1.6 seconds to go on a Robert Church equalizing attempt as the ball sat agonizingly close to the goalline as time expired.
“I felt it go in between my legs,” Cosmo said. “I tried to squeeze it as hard as I could. Luckily, it didn’t go in.”
It didn’t take long for the Bandits’ free agent acquisition Jerome Thompson to crack the score sheet. In his first NLL game, he notched two assists (the first coming on the first goal of the game). Jerome was highly touted by Bandits Assistant Coach Dan Teat who before the game said Thompson has “unique skills that are fun to watch.”
In the fourth quarter, Bandits defenseman Steve Priolo took a minor and major penalty which saw the Bandits kill off seven minutes of short-handed time and maintain a 9-8 lead. The Bandits were able to pack it in and hold on for the win.
Troy Cordingley was happy with the effort from his team overall.
“We had control of the game,” he said. “We played our game plan to a tee. We controlled the 30-second clock and we were only satisfied with quality shots.”
Buffalo also dealt with a grueling travel schedule and flight delays getting from New England back to Buffalo.
“Everybody does the long road trips and early mornings,” Cordingley said. “Those are just excuses. We had to come play tonight. We have to protect our home turf and win at home.”
Edmonton Rush assistant coach Jeff McComb took control of the bench in the absence of Derek Keenan, who has taken a leave of absence while grieving the loss of his wife, Wendy.
“The Bandits were better than we were in the first half. In the second half, I thought we were a lot better,” said McComb.
A message to the assistant coach and the team changed the scope of the game.
“Derek sent me a text at half time and told the boys to ‘relax,'” McComb said. “I told the boys about the text and it helped them to relax and have some fun and play a much better second half.”
Rush rookie Ben McIntosh, the first overall selection in the 2014 NLL Draft, scored a team-high three goals in the losing effort, all in the second half.
With next weekend off, Buffalo returns to action on the road on Saturday, Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. ET against the Vancouver Stealth. Meanwhile, the Rush host the Minnesota Swarm for its home opener at Rexall Place on Saturday, Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Ryan Benesch
2) Mark Matthews
3) Mark Steenhuis
Story by Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo courtesy of Bill Wippert.