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New faces shine as Buque, Byrne and the Bandits down the Rock

The Buffalo Bandits (1-0) and Toronto Rock (0-1) kicked off their respective 2018 campaigns on Friday night in front of 11,516 fans at the KeyBank Center. The Bandits, with only 12 returning players from last year, showed their youth and speed in a convincing 13-9 win over their East Division rival.

The Bandits came into the 2018 season with just 12 returning players. The young stars and new acquisitions put together an impressive game in their first action together.

Buffalo opened up a 3 goal lead in the first quarter with tallies from Pat Saunders, Mitch Jones on the powerplay and Craig England. Adam Jones answered with his first goal as a member of the Rock before Dan Lintner finished the quarter’s scoring with the Bandits holding a 3-2 lead.

Despite first quarter penalty trouble, the Bandits found themselves with an early lead which may have been a key to their success. The lead also helped their goaltender have a strong performance in his debut.

“I have a great set of guys out there, a tough defense. They blocked shots for me when I needed it and they were able to pick some passes off and go the other way. We looked fast,” said Bandits goaltender Alex Buque. “I was able to see the ball all the way through, the team helped me see the ball.”

Buque turned away 55 of the 64 shots he faced, but would only credit his team for his success.

The Rock earned their first lead of the game with a goal from Brett Hickey and a short handed marker from Brodie Merrill. Newcomer Jordan Durston and Mitch Jones added powerplay goals to give the Bandits a 5-4 lead. Stephan LeBlanc sent the game into the half tied at five.

First overall pick Josh Byrne scored his first career goal to give the Bandits the lead back 6-5. Byrne scooped a loose ball with shot clock expiring, spun 180 degrees and fired a blind shot behind Toronto goaltender Nick Rose.

”That was the biggest fluke I’ve ever had in my life, but a goal’s a goal and I’ll take it,” said the excited rookie. “Life is good right now. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Rob Hellyer tied the game 6-6, but the Bandits took the lead back for good on goals from Chase Fraser and Dhane Smith. Linter put the Rock back within one, but Callum Crawford gave Buffalo a 9-7 lead heading into the final quarter.

“Buffalo made some plays when it counted for sure. It was a pretty tight game, they kind of pulled away at the end,” said Rose. “There were a lot of shots coming in quick. It was a fast, but good game. We need to be a bit better.”

Nick Weiss scored to put Buffalo up 10-7. Lintner completed his hat trick but Crawford had an answer for Buffalo. Jones scored in between empty net goals from Mark Steenhuis and Weiss.

“We had a lot of energy tonight and that was good to see. The guys were hungry. We made things difficult [on Toronto,]” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “It was good to start the way that we did and we battled hard.”

Toronto comes into this season with high expectations and a high powered offense with the likes of Hickey, Hellyer, Tom Schreiber and company.

“I thought we ran into a team that was much hungrier than us. They won more battles than us and dominated loose balls,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “We didn’t have very good execution on offense and when we did their goaltender played well, but we need to get a better number than [9 goals.] We’re not going to win many games scoring the way we did tonight.”

The Bandits head to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks on December 23rd at 7:30P.M. The Rock will host the Saskatchewan Rush on December 16th at 7:00P.M.

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the Media:
1 – Dhane Smith
2 – Alex Buque
3 – Adam Jones