Dhane Smith broke the NLL single-season scoring record with his eighth point of the night to ice the Buffalo Bandits’ 15-13 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks Saturday night at the sold-out Blue Cross Arena. Smith’s fourth goal of the night came with 5.6 seconds left in the fourth after the Knighthawks had improbably stormed back in the final two minutes after trailing by five goals. The victory by the Bandits (12-5) marked the first time they have swept the Knighthawks (6-10) in Rochester’s 20 years in the league.
“You know what? I didn’t even realize I broke it to be honest,” said Smith of his empty-net goal. “Guys congratulating me at the end of the game but just happy with the victory… I’m thankful that I’ve got the record now and got it over with. Now there’s not much pressure on me. I just want to play my game. Last few weeks, there’s been a lot of pressure about breaking the record. That’s all people have been talking about.
“Obviously the main focus is winning a championship and that’s all I want to do.”
“Dhane’s an awful good offensive player,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “He’s been outstanding. The best thing I like about Dhane is he’s team first. He’s only 24 years old, and he’s got a great future ahead of him. He’s going to be a dominant player in this league for a long time as long as he keeps his head on straight and plays for the team.”
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” said Knighthawks defenseman Brad Self. “He’s been good since he came in the league. This year, he’s obviously having a breakout year. He’s a threat every time he’s on the floor, every time the ball is on his stick.”
The game was a wild one as is fitting in a battle between the fierce Thruway rivals. The Knighthawks kept the Bandits largely in check through the first quarter and held a slim 8-7 lead at the end of three, thanks in large part to the efforts of goalie Matt Vinc who finished with 45 saves on 59 shots on goal. Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh may have turned in the highlight of the night in the second quarter after seemingly facing off against every single Bandits defender and still managing to beat Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo.
“I was going hard to the net,” said Keogh. “I kind of just shot it at the net and luckily it went in.”
That simply does not do his effort justice as the highlight reel shows.
The Knighthawks had a golden chance to break the game open to start the third with a two-man advantage and defenseman Billy Dee Smith in the box for five minutes. Cory Vitarelli scored the first of his two goals of the third with the two-man advantage, but Steve Priolo scored shorthanded and the Bandits were able to kill off the rest of the major penalty. What was an opportunity for the Knighthawks to take a bigger lead instead turned into a possible turning point for the Bandits.
In the fourth quarter with the Knighthawks still clinging to a one-goal lead, the Bandits went on a six-goal run that included five goals in the span of four minutes. Mark Steenhuis finished with six points (4, 2) on the night, including four points in the fourth quarter.
“We stuck around,” Cordingley said. “We weren’t playing well, but we stuck around, found a way to stay close. Then in the fourth quarter, we found our groove. We were real good in the fourth quarter. Mark Steenhuis was unbelievable offensively, and we found a way.”
“Three minutes of disjointed lacrosse,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We battled for 57 minutes. Everyone did and left it on the line there. We’ve just got to clean up three minutes of lacrosse and we might be on the other side of this one tonight.”
“They took advantage of those three minutes,” Keogh said. “Their transition, they were getting some goals. For some reason all year, we’ve had those mental lapses for three, four minutes. It’s been hurting us all year. Today was no different.”
“They just got on a run,” said Knigthawks defenseman Brad Self. “Transition, some power play goals, and we didn’t do anything to stop them. They’re a good team, and that’s their strength.”
“It’s just something that we’ve got to overcome,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “When you get in those lulls for three minutes, and they put together a run, you’ve got to answer… We did it, we just ran out of time again tonight. That’s kind of been the way the season’s gone up to this point.”
The Knighthawks fought back over the final two minutes. Joe Resetarits had his best night of the season with five points (4, 1) and four of those points came in the final 2:17 of the game. Joe Walters also helped key the four-goal run, scoring all three of his points (1, 2) during that timespan.
“Joey Res has had kind of a tough year here,” Hasen said. “It was good to see him. Definitely good to see him get back and get those ones, especially the late ones to put us back in it.”
“He was great tonight,” Dawson said. “Joey’s a guy who’s been out of the lineup the last couple of weeks. Sometimes the rust can show, and it didn’t for him. He kept fighting until the end.”
“They’re a great team,” Smith said. “We knew they were going to keep battling. They were back-to-back champs a few years ago, and there’s a reason for that. They have a great coaching staff and great players.”
While the Knighthawks ran out of time at the end after digging themselves a hole, Dan Dawson joined elite company in the NLL during the game. When he opened the scoring 4:16 into the game, Dawson became only the fifth player in league history to amass 1,200 points in a career.
“I’ve been blessed, put in a position to be successful and be surrounded by so many great players and a coaching staff who believes in my ability,” Dawson said. “That’s all it is. It’s a team game, it’s not individual accolades. It’s a testament to the people you surround yourself with and coaches that put you in positions to be successful. I’m very thankful.
“I’ve played on numerous teams throughout this NLL career. I’m very blessed and very honored to be in the company of the guys that are up there. When I sit back and really reflect on my career when I’m done playing, maybe it’ll mean a little bit more to me, but right now, it just sucks because we lost and we’re fighting for our playoff lives.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Dhane Smith
2) Dan Dawson
3) Ryan Benesch
By Jeremy Pike for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.