A night after a bitter defeat at the First Niagara Center, the Toronto Rock (10-2) got retribution by defeating the Buffalo Bandits (6-6) in overtime by a score of 11-10 before a crowd of 11,460 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Brett Hickey played the roll of overtime hero as the youngster finished on the doorstep 3:07 into overtime completing a weekend split for Toronto. The goal is Hickey’s 30th of the year, a milestone surprisingly met not far beyond the halfway point of the season.
“I came off the bench, [Damon Edwards] flipped it too me… I just drove in, popped out and put it in underneath,” said Hickey, who at the game’s finish held the third best goal total in the league.
“It’s been a great year,” added Hickey in reference to his scoring success this season. “But stats aside, it’s been a great team year. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played with.”
Hickey’s goal is yet another symbol of perseverance for the Rock. Saturday night’s result is their third overtime win over their last five games. Whether Toronto has blown a lead late, or rallied to pull themselves out of a hole, a hero – at least to this point – has always been on call.
Much to the dismay of Rock head coach John Lovell however, Toronto eventually squandered 8-4 lead held late in the second quarter. Cue a late first half goal from Buffalo’s John Tavares followed by a 4-0 Bandit run to open the third frame.
“In a lot of ways, we’re a work in progress,” said Lovell. “We still have to control the runs a little bit and I still think there are things we have to do better defensively.”
Despite this, Lovell was quick to point out the importance of winning on home floor a night after losing an emotional battle south of the border. The loss included a pair of spirited fights, arguable cheap shots and an 8-1 Buffalo run resulting in a blown lead.
“It was [our best win of the season], said Lovell. “Given what transpired last night, giving up a lead and it was a very emotional loss. We were re-focused, re-energized, the guys started to believe themselves again.”
Toronto’s Kasey Beirnes opened all scoring by netting one on the doorstep just 46 seconds after the first whistle. Ryan Benesch, just 1:13 later, knotted the game with a goal off a Mark Steenhuis rebound shot. After nearly four minutes of back-and-forth play, Rock forward Rob Hellyer scored his first of the game only to countered with a David Brock goal on transition 38 seconds following.
Breaking the 2-2 tie, Hickey scored a pair a goals to start the second quarter over what eventually became a 4-0 Rock run. Less than a minute later, Buffalo forwards Chad Culp and Alexander-Kedoh Hill each scored 3:10 apart to pull the Bandits within a 6-4 deficit. Toronto closed the first half by going on a 2-1 mini-run earning them a 8-5 lead heading into the game’s final 30 minutes.
By halftime, 45 total penalty minutes were posted between the two teams, 20 of which belonging to Toronto defender Patrick Merrill. The Rock veteran received his first five minute major after he stood up Chad Culp along the boards. Merrill, earning the title of a marked man, fought Mitch Wilde in a spirited tilt just seconds after a faceoff in the second frame. The two majors resulted in a 10-minute game misconduct.
The Bandits came out strong as Nick Weiss, Dhane Smith (2) and Joe Resetartis participated in a 4-0 run to give Buffalo their first lead of the game. The Rock remained silent for the duration of the third quarter allowing the Bandits to carry their 9-8 lead into the final 15 minutes.
Toronto’s 18:33 goal-drought was broken by Hellyer who tied the game on a bouncer just seconds into the final frame. It took nearly 12 minutes for the 9-9 tie to be broken, and it was Benesch that did the honors with his second goal of the game. With under a minute remaining, Beirnes tied the game at 10-10 to force sudden-death overtime.
With the loss, the Bandits are now 2-5 on the road and 0-2 at the Air Canada Centre, a tenuous effort that has boldly contributed to their league-wost 151 goals against. But a silver lining lies in the fact that Buffalo played the best team in the league twice in one weekend and came just a minute away from sweeping the weekend series.
“We were a minute away, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “But hey, we proved to ourselves that we can play with the best team in the league.”
It a solace that comes perhaps at the perfect moment for the Bandits as each of their remaining six games will be played within the East Division. On the heels of Saturday night’s loss, Buffalo holds the third spot in the division just a game ahead of the New England Black Wolves. With pending playoff implications in mind, the Bandits feel positive heading into their treacherous late-season trek.
“Those are big games for us,” said Bandits’ captain Tavares. “We are showing a lot of character on our team right now, I think we just need to be a little more disciplined.”
Toronto goalie Brandon Miller got the start between the pipes after platoon partner Nick Rose fell to the Bandits a night prior. Miller stopped 42 of 52 Buffalo shots for a .807 save percentage. The win improves his record to 6-1 on the year.
“There’s an intense rivalry here, it’s fun to play in,” said Miller. “It’s like a playoff game.”
Opposing goalie Anthony Cosmo allowed 11 goals on 60 shots for a more than stellar .816 save percentage.
“Cosmo was great all night, we were lucky to squeak one in [in overtime],” said Miller.
Hellyer (3+3) led all shooters with six points in the win. Leblanc (0+5) followed up with five points of his own. Steenhuis (0+5) and Benesch (2+3) each had five points on the night, while three Bandit forwards each followed up with three points.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Brandon Miller
2) Anthony Cosmo
3) Damon Edwards
By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.