The Buffalo Bandits (8-7) will finish the 2017-2018 regular season 3-0 against the New England Black Wolves (6-8) winning 14-11 in front of 13,709 at the KeyBank Center on Saturday night. The win was crucial for Buffalo in the East Division playoff race, allowing the Bandits to keep pace with the Rochester Knighthawks and putting them a half-game ahead of the Toronto Rock and Georgia Swarm.
“We’ll take a win here. We found a way. Every time they went on a run, we answered,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Every win in this league is satisfying, we earned it tonight. We knew they’d have a higher compete level but we picked it up when we needed to.”
The Bandits got off to a very strong start, building a 5-0 lead on goals from Dhane Smith, Chase Fraser, Josh Byrne, Shawn Evans and Fraser again. Kevin Crowley answered with two goals for the Black Wolves and the first quarter ended with Buffalo leading 5-2.
Buffalo has been notorious for slow starts and playing from behind this season, so the strong start was a welcome sight.
”We don’t want to be chasing and playing risky lacrosse,” noted Cordingley about the big lead early. “We want to play tight defense and make sure we’re the leaders in the game.”
After a goal for New England by Adam Bomberry, Vaughn Harris answered for Buffalo. Nick Chaykowsky scored in transition, but Jordan Durston found the net on a Bandits power play. A three goal run, sparked by power play goals by Crowley and Callum Crawford, followed by another goal by Crowley tied the game at seven and Buffalo’s lead evaporated. Byrne scored again for Buffalo and gave them an 8-7 edge at the half.
Over half of the wide open third quarter passed without a goal or penalty, but Fraser scored his third goal of the game for Buffalo at the 6:59 mark. His hat trick goal was the only tally of the entire quarter and the Bandits took a 9-7 lead into the final frame.
The fourth quarter was quite the opposite of the third, as nine goals were split between the teams. Crowley scored his fifth goal of the game before Kyle Buchanan tied the game again, this time at nine. But Buffalo refused to allow the Black Wolves to ever have the lead. Byrne and Mitch Jones restored the Bandits two goal lead. Reilly O’Connor notched a goal but Byrne answered right back. Buchanan tried to give the Wolves one last push, but Jones and Durston put the icing on the cake with late goals and gave Buffalo a 14-11 win.
The game seemed to be particularly full of emotion with playoff positioning at stake. Both the players and coaches could feel the intensity during the tightly contested battle.
“We’re in a playoff spot right now in the East, but we play two of the teams that are trying to get a playoff spot,” said Cordingley. “These are the playoffs for us, we’ve got to show our character.”
“That one was a must win for us, we knew they were going to come out firing and they did,” said Byrne who racked up four goals, two assists and first star honors. “After that four game losing streak, we were kind of down in the dumps, but when it starts going our way again, the emotions come out a bit more.”
Bandits forward Craig England missed the game with an eye injury and has had surgery to repair a partially torn retina. In his absence, rookie draft pick Chase Fraser slotted back into the lineup and scored a hat trick.
“I’m happy he got his chance to get back in,” said Byrne. “He’s probably the most athletic kid I’ve seen in my life. He just finds a way to the net and put some in tonight.”
Fraser was also happy to play again.
“I had a day today. I was feeling it. The whole team played well, not just me,” said Fraser. “We shared the ball well. The offense was clicking and I’m glad I was a part of it.”
The loss was the fourth straight for New England. Despite their efforts to come back on Saturday, they came up short.
”We’ve got to come better ready to play, otherwise we face the pressure of fighting the uphill battle,” said Wolves assistant coach Tracey Kelusky. “Credit to Buffalo for getting goals back right away after we scored, but we made a lot of little mental mistakes. We also can’t go 15 minutes without scoring like we did in the third quarter.”
Even with the loss and finding themselves in last place, the East Division playoff hunt is far from over for the Black Wolves. With four games left, two of which come against East opponents, Kelusky isn’t counting his team out.
“Our fate’s in our own hands, we understand that,” he said. “We’re on a down skid right now, but we believe in our group and we can be as good as anybody.”
New England returns to action when they host the Calgary Roughnecks on Sunday, April 8 at 2:00P.M. EST. The Bandits will travel to Calgary after a bye week when they’ll play the Roughnecks on April 14 at 9:00P.M. EST.
Three Stars of the Game as Selected by the Media:
1 – Josh Byrne (4+2)
2 – Kevin Crowley (5+0)
3 – Shawn Evans (1+6)