The Buffalo Bandits (7-4) hosted its Interstate 90 rival, the Rochester Knighthawks (4-5), for an emotional showdown on Friday. The Bandits retired the jersey of John Tavares, the NLL’s all-time leading scorer, and hung his number 11 banner in the rafters to immortalize his great career. 18,751 fans came to the First Niagara Center to celebrate his illustrious career and also got to celebrate a 13-10 win in ‘Banditland.’
The team played clips of Buffalo icons congratulating Tavares on a great career throughout the game, including another great player to wear number 11 in Buffalo, Gilbert Perreault. The Bandits assistant coach was quick to deflect attention away from himself and credit his team on a strong win.
“I thought it was a nice tribute. When I first came to the Bandits I wanted to wear number 6, but they gave me number 11. I said ‘number 11, that’s Gilbert Perreault’ and it put some added pressure on me,” said Tavares. “More importantly, the team won. It’s always nice to celebrate a win. It’s nice that the guys pulled through and won a big game. I’d like to say they won it for me.”
The Bandits opened the scoring with goals from Dhane Smith and Ryan Benesch. Cody Jamieson and Steven Keogh eached notched a power play goal and tied the game at two. Mark Steenhuis scored a power play goal to end the opening frame with the score 3-2 in favor of Buffalo.
The second quarter saw two goals scored for each team. Anthony Malcom and Tyler Ferreira tallied for the Bandits. Dan Dawson and Jamieson scored for the Knighthawks. The first half ended 5-4 in favor of the Bandits.
Smith scored the first goal of the third quarter to give the Bandits a two goal lead. Keogh found the back of the net and Cory Vitarelli scored twice to give Rochester their first lead of the game at 7-6. Smith tallied another and Alex Kedoh Hill gave the Bandits an 8-7 lead with less than a minute to go in the third.
The Bandits opened up a 12-8 lead in the fourth which was trimmed to 12-10. Steve Priolo hit notched an empty net goal to seal to victory.
The NLL’s current 2016 leading scorer had another strong night with seven points (4+3) and continues to produce at a record pace. He was excited to beat Rochester on a special night.
“It was a big win. We owed them for beating us a few times last year. It was a huge game and to beat them for ‘JT’ felt good,” said the Bandits forward. “I’ve grown as a player. The little things are what make you win. We’re all working for a good shot, I think everyone had a goal on our offense.”
As always, it was a tight game between Buffalo and Rochester that came down to the wire. Keogh (5 points, +2) talked about the team’s effort in the loss.
“I thought we played well. On offense we were moving the ball. I thought [goalie Matt Vinc] played a great game, but they outworked us in the little battles. We still haven’t played a full 60 minutes. We need to work on that,” said the Hawks forward. “We can’t come out of the gate slow like that. We can’t spot teams a lead.”
On a night where Tavares’ career of milestones was remembered, a few other Bandits hit career milestones. Hill got his 100th point, Smith recorded his 300th point and Steenhuis registered his 900th point.
The Bandits have a bye week before they host the Vancouver Stealth at 7:30 p.m. on March 25. The Knighthawks are right back at it hosting the New England Black Wolves at 7:30 p.m. on March 12.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Ryan Benesch
3) Anthony Cosmo
By Steve Bermel for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.