The Toronto Rock (8-9) came into Buffalo needing a win to keep their playoff chances in tact. They did just that, defeating the Bandits (8-9) 16-11 in front of 16,630 at KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. Toronto’s win, along with the New England Black Wolves winning over the Rochester Knighthawks, means that virtually nothing has been decided in the East Division headed into the final week of the regular season.
The Bandits now must beat Rochester next weekend and hope for New England or Toronto to lose. Toronto needs to win and have a few other games go their way next week to get in.
Buffalo came out of the gate chasing down every loose ball and looking like the more desperate team. Shawn Evans and Vaughn Harris gave the Bandits a 2-0 lead. Toronto, however, answered with a four goal run with tallies from Challen Rogers, Adam Jones, Latrell Harris and Rob Hellyer. Mitch Jones found the net for Buffalo to make the score 4-3 to end the first quarter.
“I thought we had a really good start. We’ve talked about it all year – we have to have good starts, good starts are key in this league” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “We did have a good start, but we’re just not getting the breaks. That said, you make your breaks, I’m a firm believer in that.”
Brett Hickey scored on the power play before Reid Reinholdt and Kieran McArdle completed a three goal run to give the Rock a 7-3 lead. Evans and Jones answered for Buffalo, but Reinholdt scored again for Toronto. Dhane Smith and Justin Martin found the net for Buffalo cut the Rock’s lead to 8-7 going into halftime.
Josh Byrne opened the second half scoring and tied the game at eight. Adam Jones, Jordan Magnuson and Rob Hellyer provided Toronto with another three goal run. Buffalo was then awarded a five minute major power play which Jones scored on, but Rogers and Hellyer both scored short handed and opened a 13-9 lead for the Rock.
Adam Jones scored again and gave Toronto a 14-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. Evans and Steve Priolo responded for Buffalo, but two empty net goals from Brodie Merrill and Rogers gave the Rock a 16-11 win.
“Obviously tonight was a game we had to have if we wanted to have any hope of advancing to the playoffs. The message to the boys was ‘just play.’ We wanted to go out there and put our best game on the floor,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “That was an intense game. Both teams were feeling they needed that win. It’s good to see the boys experience some success.”
The Rock outshot Buffalo 64-46 in the win. It was not an ideal night offensively for the Bandits as their power play struggled and they were heavily outshot.
“We had a five minute power play and we’re usually mint on those, and we weren’t. We scored early but allowed two short handers right after,” said Cordingley. “You’re fighting an uphill battle and this a snowball effect.”
“You want to get your shots on net, especially on a goalie like Nick Rose who’s going to make it hard on you,” said Mitch Jones after the loss. “Being outshot like that is a contributor to the loss.”
The Bandits hosted the annual Tucker Out Lymphoma Night on Saturday to honor the late Tucker Williams, son of NLL iron man and long time Bandit Shawn Williams, who lost his battle with Burkitt Lymphoma. The team wore special jerseys and raised funds for Pediatric Cancer Research and other cancer fighting organizations.
“It’s a roller coaster, so much goes into this night. What we’re doing now is carrying on Tucker’s legacy and, as hard as it is, we’re going to do it. It’s overwhelming and breath taking when you come to the rink and everything is ‘Tucker.’ Words can’t describe the way our family feels,” said Williams of the night. “We’ve learned that there are not a lot of resources for pediatric cancer and the kids. A small percentage of money raised goes to the kids. Where we’re driven is to take care of that.”
The Rock will head out to Colorado to take on the Mammoth at 9:00P.M. EST on April 28. The Bandits will host the Knighthawks at 7:30P.M. EST at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
Three Stars of the Game as chosen by the media:
1 – Adam Jones
2 – Mitch Jones
3 – Rob Hellyer