By Jeremy Pike | NLL.com Staff Writer
Photo Credit Micheline Veluvolu
The Rochester Knighthawks (4-7) defeated the Buffalo Bandits (4-6) 9-8 in overtime on Saturday afternoon in front of 6,102 boisterous fans at the Blue Cross Arena. The Bandits took down Rochester just down the Thruway at the KeyBank Center Friday night 13-9.
“Sometimes you’re on the good end of it,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Sometimes you’re not. . . It’s a tough one to swallow, but we have to move on and prepared for Vancouver in two weeks.”
Despite the quick turnaround, there was no mistaking how big a battle this incarnation of the Thruway Rivalry would be. The game was physical early regardless of the early start after a late night. The first half was certainly low-scoring though not for lack of effort.
“That game out there, for two teams that played last night, that battled hard last night, that game was a lot more of a battle,” Cordingley said. “These guys were laying their bodies on the line and doing what they did. . . I was happy. Our defense was very solid. So was their defense. . . The offenses on both ends were earning their goals. There was no easy ones, and that’s the way a lacrosse game should be. It was two teams battling. They were battling for their life, so to speak.”
“It was an entertaining game, to say the least,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “It was tight the whole way through. It’s nice to be on the right side of one of those games. Fighting it a bit, and doing it at home, it was very fitting. . . Trying to have enough energy to make sure you get through the game, had to go an extra couple of minutes to do it to boot. Guys are taking care of themselves right now. They’re doing so much off the floor that coming into today wasn’t as much of a concern as far as fitness goes. It was just who was going to have most in the tank left at the end of 60.”
Yet it was the final five minutes of regulation, featuring all five goals scored in the fourth quarter, that truly showed how badly the two teams wanted it. To go with the goals, both teams took crucial penalties that resulted in goals. Bandits forward Dhane Smith dominated the stat sheet and the fourth quarter, posting a seven-point night (3-4). He assisted on Mitch Jones’ game-tying goal, then scored on two different occasions to stake Buffalo to a late-game lead.
“He’s got a lot of heart,” said Bandits forward Pat Saunders. “He’s a very skilled player. He’s one of those guys, he wants to win. He wants the ball on his stick and he wants to shoot it. You can’t knock him for it, and he came up big for us tonight.”
However, with 12 seconds left, Smith had the ball off a restart in the Bandits’ end and a chance to run out the clock. Between him and the final buzzer stood two Rochester defenders. The 2016 MVP could do no wrong for the first 59:50, yet the Knighthawks squeezed him against the boards and the ball popped off his stick. Graeme Hossack pounced on the loose ball and found first-round draft pick Josh Currier streaking forward.
While perhaps some rookies might hesitate, Currier did not. He beat the defender and then beat goalie Davide Deruscio who until that point could have been the first star in the game. 2.1 seconds left and Rochester had tied the game and gave them life. The roof of the BCA threatened to explode open. Currier was not the only rookie to show up big on the scoresheet. Fellow first-round pick Kyle Jackson had a four-point night (1+3) and Dan Lomas had a goal and an assist.
“It’s been trial-and-error this year and trial by fire for our rookie this year,” Dawson said. “At this point, we said you guys aren’t rookies anymore. There’s no one else coming in. You guys are here, you’ve got some games under your belt. Josh showed up. I mean, what a character goal. To be poised like that, with two defenders chasing him down. We’re very proud of the way he’s played all season long. He really got us there.”
“It’s a process for us,” Hasen said. “It’s a learning curve for these guys, right into the fire, right into the mix every single night. They’ve got to come up big. We’re counting on them big-time.”
Yet despite the rookies’ efforts, it was the veteran Dawson who capitalized on the overtime opportunity and won the game, despite the plans for the play not coming to fruition.
“We tried to do some off-ball work,” Dawson said. “Their defense played outstanding. There was nothing there. Joey (Resetarits) set a fantastic pick. It was really a blind shot around a screen. Just lucky for it to go in.”
One of the few reasons the Knighthawks even found themselves in the position to fight for such an improbable ending was the play of their goalie, Matt Vinc. While some may have been questioning his play this season, his play on Saturday afternoon should certainly quiet some of those questions. Buffalo put 52 shots on goal, and Vinc turned away all but eight of them.
“That’s my job,” said Vinc. “I made a couple saves early. It’s a lot easier to settle in. . . Sometimes you make that key save and we end up getting a good opportunity. You’re just trying to play big in there and hopefully the offense comes alive like it did late in the game.”
“He’s an elite goalie in this league,” Cordingley said. “We had plenty of chances early on, in on top of him, and he was on top of his game.”
“I thought we had a lot of good looks,” said Bandits forward Pat Saunders.”I think Vno just stole some big saves on us.”
This game was truly a goalie duel. The Bandits narrowly outshot Rochester 52-49. Both goalies turned in spectacular efforts and highlight-reel saves.
“Two outstanding performances by the goalies,” Dawson said. “You knew you were going to fight for goals that were going to go in tonight.”
“I thought the goaltending on both ends was phenomenal,” Cordingley said. “(Deruscio) made some real stellar saves. Dave is a calming influence back there. The guys played well in front of him, and when we did breakdown, there was some big saves. We couldn’t expect more.”
For the Knighthawks, they were staring a big deficit in the standings if they dropped this game. They have had some big wins and some equally large losses. A win against a rival like this one just might be what the doctor ordered.
“That’s what Coach Hasen said,” Vinc said. “He said you always think about that one moment where you look back and think what changed. Where did we turn the corner? That’s a good team win for us. Especially with the young group offensively. Coming up with a big goal, that sets the tone for going into another tough game in two weeks in New England.”