By Steve Bermel | NLL.com Staff Writer
Photo Credit Bill Wippert
The Buffalo Bandits (3-5) topped the Toronto Rock (5-3) 15-12 in front of 14,803 fans at the KeyBank Center on Saturday night. The game fit the bill of the rivalry between these two teams and featured six lead changes, 27 goals and lots of physical play.
The Bandits were glad to get back to what they call “Bandit Ball” in their second win in as many games.
“It was about time we showed up and showed our fans that we’re a good team,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “We played a little bit of ‘Old Bandit Ball.’ We were physical and scored more goals. It was our best game of the year as far as ball movement goes.”
Mitch Jones and Brad Self opened the scoring and spotted the Bandits a 2-0 lead. Phil Caputo scored for the Rock before Self answered back. Challen Rogers, Dan Lintner and Turner Evans gave the Rock a 4-3 lead with their three goal run. Jones and Mark Steenhuis rounded out the scoresheet in the first quarter with Buffalo holding a 5-4 lead.
Self, usually noted for his transition game, enjoyed his time playing offense with Ryan Benesch injured and out of the lineup.
“It felt good to be out there [on offense] for the full 60 minutes. The guys moved the ball well and we were successful.” said Self. “When a star player goes down, everyone else has to step up as a team if we’re going to win a game.”
Evans found the net to start the second and tied the game at five. Jones and Blaze Riorden answered for Buffalo before Toronto got another three goal run from Caputo, Rogers and Stephan Leblanc. Riorden scored again and sent the game into the half tied 8-8.
Leblanc struck again to start the second half and gave the Rock their third lead of the night, but the Bandits netted three straight from Steenhuis, Jones and Craig England to take the lead right back. Brett Hickey clipped the Bandits lead to 11-10 and rounded out the scoring in the third.
Hickey scored again to kick off the fourth quarter and tie the game at 11. Self and Brodie Merrill traded goals and the game was tied at 12. The Bandits then got another three goal run from Alex Kedoh Hill, England and Dhane Smith to seal to the win 15-12.
Toronto consistently battled back and took the lead three different times in the game, but weren’t able to keep the lead once they got it.
“You’re not going to be successful if you put forth the kind of effort we had, especially on the road against a division rival. We felt this was a winnable game, but we got the fate we deserved,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “We outshot Buffalo by a fair bit, but their chances came right on top of Rose. We had too many breakdowns individually and as a team.”
The Bandits were able to fight back every time that Toronto put a run together which was key to their big win.
“We got the first goal tonight which helped,” said Jones. “We have more confidence now. From the get-go we knew every goal would be big and we kept answering their goals.”
Dhane Smith led all runners with 10 points (1+9). Hill added six points (1+5) while Riorden (2+3) and Jones (4+1) each had five. Leblanc had four points (2+2) and 17 shots on goal while Hickey (2+2) added four points of his own for the Rock.
Nick Rose, who has been stellar all year for the Rock, stopped 27 of the 42 shots he faced while Anthony Cosmo turned away 48 out of 60 shots that he faced. The strong goaltending performance was a welcome sight for Buffalo.
“When we made mistakes, Cosmo made some huge saves for us and bailed us out,” added Cordingley. “It also was the best defensive game we’ve played. A lot of their shots were contested.”
Buffalo’s netminder became the all-time Bandits saves leader in the first half when he made his 2,749th save as a Bandit. He surpassed Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich.
“Things are starting to turn around now and head in a positive direction. Our hard work is finally paying off,” said Cosmo. “Our defense dictated where the shots came from and they gave me a lot of good looks. When that happens they just throw the ball at the net and it’s easy to save.”
The Bandits return to action at the KeyBank Center on Friday, March 3rd at 7:00 P.M. EST for the first game of a home-and-home with the Rochester Knighthawks. The Rock head to New England to face the Black Wolves at the Mohegan Sun on March 3rd at 7:30 P.M. EST.
Three Stars as Selected by the Media:
1 – Mitch Jones
2 – Blaze Riorden
3 – Brett Hickey