The Buffalo Bandits (6-12) season came to a disappointing close with a 19-15 loss to the Toronto Rock (9-9) in front of 18,417 fans at the KeyBank Center on Saturday night. The loss dropped the Bandits to 3-6 at home and finished up what was an unusual and disappointing 2017 campaign.
“The effort was there for most of the game, but our Achilles heel has been discipline. We took some bad penalties at some bad times and their transition was better than ours,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “We’ve struggled in the defensive area a lot and it took away from our transition game all year.”
The Rock earned the two seed in the East and a home playoff game with the win and a loss by the New England Black Wolves to the Vancouver Stealth.
“It was important for us to get a win and go into the playoffs on the right note. We also knew there was a possibility that with a win we’d be able to host a playoff game,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “We feel it’s an advantage. We plan on sticking around for a while here.”
The Bandits opened the scoring just 16 seconds into the game as Craig England lit the lamp. Latrell Harris answered shorthanded for the Rock before Ryan Benesch tallied his first goal on the power play. Kieran McArdle tied the game at two but Benesch gave Buffalo the lead back. Harris scored again, but England and Pat Saunders gave the Bandits a 5-3 lead at the end of the first frame.
Mitch Jones completed Buffalo’s three goal run with the first tally of the second quarter. McArdle and Jesse Gamble brought Toronto within one. Kevin Brownell, Benesch and Matthew Bennett opened up a 9-5 lead for Buffalo, but Brett Hickey scored three straight goals with end the half with the Rock only trailing 9-8. Nick Rose was also pulled in favor of Brandon Miller at the 10:15 mark. The change sparked the Rock and slowed the Bandits scoring down.
“Anytime a new goalie comes in you have to adjust,” said Bandits forward Pat Saunders. “Rose is more of a blocker while Miller is more of a movement goalie that reacts.”
“We certainly didn’t feel like the first half was our best, but it was 9-8 after we scored a few to end it,” said Sawyer. “There were a lot of swings in the game and we feel like we came out really good in the second half.”
Saunders scored first in the third but Reid Reinholdt and McArdle answered for the Rock. Anthony Malcom scored shorthanded before Tom Schreiber and Harris scored to give Toronto its first lead of the game at 12-11. Saunders, Mitch Jones and Benesch gave the Bandits the lead back and ended the third quarter with Buffalo in the lead 14-12.
The fourth quarter saw Saunders score again to give Buffalo a 15-12 lead, but the Bandits wouldn’t score again. Dan Linter, Schreiber, Damon Edwards, Hickey, Reinholdt, Schreiber and Hickey completed the 7-0 run that saw the Rock pull out a 19-15 win.
“Our offense came through when it counted most, it was great to see them pull us through,” added Sawyer. “We showed a lot of grit and character and stuck with it.”
Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis came into the game with 998 points, just two shy of joining the 1,000 club with only eight other players. With his second assist of the game in the third quarter, Mark found himself in that grand company.
“I always think about the game first, but on a high note, I couldn’t have asked for a cooler thing to happen out there. There were 18,000 fans giving me a standing ovation, it was a special moment,” said Steenhuis. “I didn’t know, when I started in grade 12, where it would take me but where my career has ended up feels very special to me.”
“We talked as an offense and let it be known that we wanted Mark to get those two points tonight,” noted Benesch. “Seeing what he’s done for this game and how good he is, that’s a true testament to his character. I’m as proud as you could be for him.”
The Bandits have now finished last in the NLL and are “on the clock” with the first pick in the draft this offseason. Change seems imminent after a lackluster season.
“There might be changes. Nobody is safe right now after the way we played this season,” added Benesch. “It’s up to us to stay in shape and come ready to battle next year. We found out how hard it can be to win in this league.”
The Rock will host the Black Wolves next weekend in round 1 of the East Division playoffs.
Three stars of the game as selected by the media:
1 – Mark Steenhuis (0+2, 1,000 career points)
2 – Brett Hickey (5+5)
3 – Ryan Benesch (4+4)