Saturday night in ‘Banditland’ may have felt all too familiar to the Buffalo Bandits (8-10) as they dropped a crucial game to the Rochester Knighthawks (10-8) by a score of 15-13. Buffalo has struggled all year with trailing throughout games and their final game of the season was no different. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, which evaporated, the Bandits never led again. The loss eliminated Buffalo from the 2018 playoffs and saw the Hawks punch their ticket to the postseason.
“We let each other down. We have a good team in there. Our compete level was really good tonight, but we made some poor decisions and the ball was in the back of our net,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Kudos to the guys, they never quit and battled right to the bitter end, but we made life hard on ourselves after a good start.”
Shawn Evans and Jordan Durston gave the Bandits an early 2-0 lead, but a three goal run from Cody Jamieson, Paul Dawson and Jake Withers gave the Hawks the lead. Mitch Jones tied the game, but Jamieson gave Rochester a 4-3 lead to end the quarter.
Graeme Hossack opened the scoring in the second frame with a shorthanded tally. Dhane Smith later answered on the powerplay, but Cory Vitarelli and Austin Shanks gave the Hawks a 7-4 lead. The Bandits used a three goal run to tie the game at 7-7, but the Knighthawks got a goal from Brad Gillies with less than three seconds to play in the half to earn an 8-7 lead.
“We had momentum going into the second half, but we blew the goal at the end [of the second quarter] and it hurt us,” said Bandits forward Dhane Smith.
The Bandits tied the game again, this time at eight with another goal from Jones. Kyle Jackson found the scoresheet and started a five goal run that spread across the third and fourth quarters to give Rochester a 14-9 lead with 14:08 to play. Buffalo made a hard push late, including scoring a shorthanded goal on a five minute penalty kill and got within one goal, 14-13, with 1:06 to play. Buffalo regained possession but couldn’t convert on a late chance and Jackson scored an empty net goal to seal the game.
“I think we played better when we took that five minute penalty. We knew we had to come together as a group and we did that,” noted Smith. “We had the chance 5-on-5, it was tough. It was one of those games where bounces weren’t going our way. The crowd was amazing.”
With the win, the Hawks are back in the postseason for the first time since 2015. While seeding still hasn’t been determined yet, Rochester has qualified for the playoffs.
“It feels really good. The boys grinded and earned it,” said Hawks head coach Mike Hasen. “All over, every guy on the floor did their job and grinded it out.”
The win tied Hasen with Paul Day for most coaching wins in franchise history. Also, Joe Resetarits broke the record for goals scored in a season by a US born player.
At one point this season, Rochester was 2-6 in the standings and the playoff picture looked bleak. The Hawks went on to win 8 of their last 10 games to clinch a berth.
“Everybody counted us out except our locker room. They believe in each other and stuck to the process,” said Hasen. “They were rewarded game by game and shift by shift, but we have more work to do.”
For the Bandits, this marks the second season in a row missing the postseason. The goal is always to win a championship, but to miss the playoffs again is a disappointment.
“We have to regroup here and figure things out. It’s going to be an awfully long offseason again and it’s disappointing,” said Cordingley. “It’s not a successful season, though we improved immensely and the locker room is really good, but we’re not there yet.”
All of the playoff teams are set in the East after tonight’s games. The Knighthawks, Georgia Swarm and New England Black Wolves will dance in the postseason beginning next week.