After a loss in Toronto on Friday night, the Buffalo Bandits (11-5) looked for revenge against the Rock (5-11) in front of 17,270 fans at the First Niagara Center. With a 14-8 victory, Buffalo earned the redemption they were looking for and kept sole possession of first place in the East. It was the fourth meeting between the teams and there was no love lost between them.
The Bandits sported special jerseys for “Tucker Out Lymphoma” night, remembering the late Tucker Williams, the son of NLL ironman and former Rock and Bandits forward Shawn Williams.
“The compete level was a lot higher today. Yesterday, we had a pretty flat warmup. We knew that tonight was a chance to rebound and play for something that’s bigger than the game,” said Bandits forward Ryan Benesch about the special night. “Tonight, the boys came ready to play. I think we kind of needed that ‘stinker’ to get it out of our system. To be brought back to reality was a good thing for us. We know we can’t take any game for granted.”
Nick Weiss opened the scoring with a short handed goal for Buffalo before Stephan Leblanc scored on the power play to tie the game. Dan Linter gave the Rock the lead until Dhane Smith potted two goals to end the first quarter 3-2 in favor of the Bandits. Buffalo went on a 6-1 second quarter run to open up a 9-3 lead at halftime.
The teams traded goals in the third quarter and Buffalo took a 12-5 lead into the final frame. The Rock scored three straight goals to bring the game to 12-8 and began pulling their goaltender for the extra attacker with 4:25 to go. Weiss scored his second goal of the game on the empty net followed by Benesch’s fourth tally of the game to give Buffalo their 14-8 win.
“There was definitely a huge difference within those 24 hours. We talked about being good all the time,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley.
The loss eliminated Toronto from playoff contention, but head coach John Lovell credited his team’s recent efforts. The injury bug has bitten the Rock hard this year, as well.
“It’s been a very difficult season for a lot of reasons, including our terrible start, but I really like the character and heart of this team over the last nine games,” said coach Lovell. “The sad thing about some of these injuries, there are four of them off the top of my head, is that these are 9-12 month recoveries. Players may miss time next year.”
Bandits goalie Davide DiRuscio stopped 50 of the 58 shots he faced, posting an 0.862 save percentage. Brandon Miller stopped 17 of the 25 shots he faced before being relieved by Nick Rose who stopped 27 of 33.
“We have two excellent goalies. Davide got a shot today and he was stellar,” said Cordingley. “He was stellar. He made some great saves to allow us to build a lead. When we got a little bit complacent in the fourth quarter he made some great saves.”
DiRuscio was proud of his defense and his team for their efforts. He knew that a start was coming his way this weekend.
“The team kicked it up a gear tonight. Our defense was on fire tonight. Obviously Toronto was going to hit on some plays on us, they’re a good team, but I’m happy because we played a lot better tonight,” said the Bandits backstop. “The coaches told us we’d be splitting the games this weekend, so I had a week to prepare. I’m always watching tape on other teams and I’m always ready to go, but it helps [to know].”
Benesch (4+4) led all runners with 8 points while Smith (5+0) added five points. Leblanc (4+1) led the Rock with 5 points and Rob Hellyer (0+3) added three points of his own.
The Bandits return to action when they face the Rochester Knighthawks at the Blue Cross Arena at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 23. The Rock are back at it on the 23rd as well when they visit the Colorado Mammoth at 9 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Ryan Benesch
2) Dhane Smith
3) Davide DiRuscio
By Steve Bermel for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.