The Buffalo Bandits (4-3) host the Rochester Knighthawks (2-3) at First Niagara Center for a Thruway Rivalry rematch on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and on TSN.ca in Canada. It’s safe to say no love will be lost between these two teams on Valentine’s Day as they meet for the second leg of their three-game season series.
The first tilt between the I-90 rivals took place in Week 5 when Buffalo fell to Rochester on the road by a score of 17-11 at Blue Cross Arena. Down 10-4 at the half, Buffalo scored seven-straight goals to take an 11-10 lead before relinquishing seven consecutive goals of their own to the Knighthawks. Rochester’s Dan Dawson led all runner with 11 points (0+11) while Dhane Smith led Buffalo with five points (2+3).
Buffalo has seen their four wins this season all come in close fashion, by three goals or fewer. Two of the team’s wins were by one goal, including last week at Calgary where they won in overtime 15-14 over the Roughnecks.
Bandits rookie Jerome Thompson netted the game winner on a screamer of a shot from the point to round out a three-point night (1+2).
“Sorry to all the fans for not shooting as much as I should,” Thompson tweeted after the game. “I think it’s about time [I shoot more].”
The Bandits and Knighthawks are certainly not strangers. In fact, these two teams know each other very well.
“It’s no secret between Buffalo and Rochester, things get pretty heated. It’s quite a rivalry,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We’re not hiding anything from each other. We know each other. It’s still Rochester. It’s still Buffalo. We’ll have to see who’s standing after we slug it out.”
After a grueling start to the year with two back-to-back weekends and two trips out west, Bandits transition player Jay Thorimbert is happy to stay close to home in the Northeast for a while as the team will not board a plane to play a game until April. The Bandits play either at home or close to home (Toronto or Rochester) for the team’s next seven games.
“Travel is draining on the body,” Thorimbert said. “It’ll be good to stay close to home and sleep in our own beds.”
Thorimbert has become a force at faceoffs in his time in Buffalo. So far this season, he is almost 60% on draws and has won more faceoffs than any other player in the NLL. He expects a tough and tight game this Saturday against a strong Rochester team.
“It’d be nice to get a 17-11 win of our own, to get some distance between us and not have to worry about them scoring in the last eight seconds,” Thorimbert admitted. “But I definitely think it’s going to be another tight one.”
Bandits forward Ryan Benesch is tied for the league lead in scoring with 40 points (21+19) in seven games while Knighthawks star Cody Jamieson, the 2014 NLL MVP, leads Rochester with 27 points (10+17) in five games played.
The Bandits find themselves just one game out of first place in the East. The Knighthawks are last in the East but are only two games out of first place.
The Knighthawks are coming off a tough road loss last Friday night against the Minnesota Swarm where the team fell 7-6 in overtime. Rochester’s defense has been exceptional for the last three games, only allowing one team to score in double digits (Bandits scored 11 in Week 5) and continued that run against the Swarm.
“That’s our job,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk who recovered five loose balls and caused two turnovers against the Swarm. “We’re out there to limit the scoring chances and do what we have to do. But at the same time, we’ve got to come out with a win. If we’ve got to hold a team to six or five [goals] to get our offense going, that’s our job on the back door. We’re just going to get back to it, stick to our principles, and go into Buffalo with the same mentality.”
“It was a good battle, a tough test for us,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen about the overtime game in Minnesota. “I think we did pretty well keeping their transition in check, which is a good point on our side. The boys were working hard on that. It’s just a manner of regrouping.”
The Thruway Rivalry is always an intense matchup no matter the record. The players, the fans, and the coaches are always into these games.
“Playing against Buffalo, it’s always easy to get up for and be ready for,” Hasen said. “It’s going to be another good Eastern battle… The atmosphere in Buffalo is really good.They’re all wearing orange and they’re all screaming nice and loud and proud. It’s close enough where we do get some of our fans to come down and cheer us on as well. It’s two teams that are going to battle tooth and nail each and every time.”
The Knighthawks got off to a very slow start against the Swarm offensively, trailing 5-1 at halftime, before coming back in the third quarter. Digging an early hole in Banditland would not bode well for Rochester.
“We’ve got to come out focused and ready to move our feet and move the ball,” Hasen said. “It’s pretty simple. If the boys are doing that, they’re hard to check. If the boys are moving, we can be successful.”
Playing a pivotal role in moving the ball for the Knighthawks lately has been Rochester native & Irondequoit grad Joe Walters, who has 15 points (8+7) on the season. The last time these two teams met, Walters had a career game with seven points (5+2) including five goals.
“He’s been working real hard on his game,” Hasen said. “He works very hard week in and week out. The success is coming from a lot of that hard work and getting confidence. Guys see it and give him the ball a little more often. Now he’s comfortable about driving and taking shots when he has to and feed when he has to. We don’t expect him to get five [goals] every night like he did a couple weeks ago, but he’s a big contributor to our success.”
After the game in Buffalo, Rochester will hit the road for another rematch, this time against the New England Black Wolves at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Larry Palumbo.