The Buffalo Bandits are back in action this week as they welcome the Halifax Thunderbirds to the KeyBank Center Saturday night. This will be Buffalo’s first time hitting the game floor since December 7th when they scored a victory over the visiting San Diego Seals. The Thunderbirds have been a little more active, as they beat the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend in a bitter 14-12 battle.
This will be Halifax’s first visit to Buffalo as a franchise, as this is their first year in the league. But with the amount of former Knighthawk players on the roster, fans could expect a re-ignition of that famous rivalry that the former Knighthawk franchise and the orange and black have had for years.
The Thunderbirds have proven so far that their offensive scoring power is still the center of their team. Players like Stephen Keogh, Cody Jamieson, Ryan Benesch, and Kyle Jackson are some of the most prolific scorers in the league, and Matt Vinc and the Buffalo defense will no doubt have their hands full.
The great thing about a Curt Styres owned and managed team, is he always tries to complement the flashy offense with a strong back end. Graeme Hossack and Brad Gilles are two players that come to mind as leaders of the Halifax defense. And as members of the franchise in Rochester, have had plenty of experience in those historic rivalry games against Buffalo.
The Thunderbirds are not a typical expansion team. Their solid on both sides of the ball, and they have the chemistry to succeed. Nothing shows this more than their dominating 12-4 opening week win over the expansion New York Riptide. The only exploit they might have is the young goalie between the pipes.
Matt Vinc had no doubt been the franchise goaltender, but instead of being in Halifax, he’s a Bandit now. For years the heir apparent to Vinc was thought to be Angus Goodleaf, but after a rough 2-10 record as a starter in 2019, the franchise looked to prospect Warren Hill. Hill is in his just third year in the league, and this season is his first year starting the season as the number one man between the pipes. Hill was 4-1 in career starts going into this season, and with an impressive 10.36 GAA.
Buffalo is coming into this one well rested. They haven’t played since the first week of December when they beat San Diego 13-10 at home. It was a game that Buffalo seemed to always be on the edge of running away with, but some dropped passes and bad transitions let the Seals stay in it. Facing a more veteran squad with the Thunderbirds, the Bandits can’t make that same mistake because Halifax will make them pay.
Chris Cloutier by and far had the most surprising and impressive performance in opening week and will look to prove that it was no fluke when he and the Bandits face-off against Halifax. Cloutier put up three goals and two assists in the 13-10 win, many times scoring after a gritty loose ball effort, or because pure brute strength to body defenders. Forward Corey Small, who led Buffalo in goals last year, sung high praise for Cloutier’s improved presence on the offensive unit especially with the absence of Jordan Durston.
“Durston did a great job of getting all the dirty work, but Chris [Cloutier] was incredible, and no knock to Durston, but Chris might have more of an offensive finish around the net,” Small said following the home opening win. “He got to those greasy areas and got some big loose balls for us, and all his goals he was right on top of the crease fighting through checks. If he can play like that game in and game out, he’s going to have a great year, and we’re going to have a successful year.”
The Bandits defense led by captain Steve Priolo, saw every player return to the team for this 2019-2020 season. For a team that made an NLL Cup run much on the backs of said defense, it’s a big deal. Against the Seals they were able to put opposition shooters right where they wanted them and block the shooting lanes, leaving the bulk of San Diego’s shooting opportunities to the outside edges. The middle seemed like a no-go zone, and if Buffalo can replicate that against Halifax, they’re going to have a successful night.
Face-off for the game is set for 7:00 p.m. ET from the Key Bank Center in Buffalo. The game can be watched with a subscription on the B/R Live app which is available on the web or through iTunes, Google Play, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire.