At many points this game seemed like it was slipping away from the Buffalo Bandits. However with solid play in the second half the team pulled off a one goal victory by the score of 13 to 12 in the team’s home opener.
Minnesota opened the game with three straight goals, two from Ryan Benesch and one from Tyler Haas. For the second night in a row, Darris Kilgour pulled Anthony Cosmo very early. Cosmo only got about ten minutes of playing time before Kilgour thought it was time to make a change. Kurtis Wagar got playing time in both games this weekend and has already seen a lot more action than expected coming into the season.
It’s not on Anthony,” said Kilgour. “I mentioned that after the game. He’s our starter, and Wagar knows what his role is. He did his role and now his role is to be the backup again.”
Wagar ended up having a decent game, making 22 saves on 31 shots. He notched the win, his first since 2010 with the Orlando Titans. Although he’s excited to get playing time, he knows that Cosmo will still be the starter going forward.
“Being a backup goalie we know our role,” said Wagar. I hope they don’t come very often, but Cosmo our guy and we all have faith in him.”
In the first half, the Bandits always seemed to be a step behind. After gaining the lead early, Minnesota countered every goal the Bandits were able to muster. The big guns were out for Minnesota, as all but one of their first half goals were scored by Ryan Benesch, Callum Crawford, or Shayne Jackson. Jackson, in his first ever NLL game, showed why the Swarm picked him so high in this year’s draft. He had a hat trick and an assist at the end of the night.
“He’s a guy that’s entertaining to watch, plays with some grit,” said Minnesota head coach Joe Sullivan. “He’s not afraid to take a hit inside and he can definitely score and shoot. Probably more than that what I noticed today is how he dealt with guys off ball.”
As much as Minnesota seemed to dominate the first half, they ended up only leading by two and half time. This left an opportunity for the Bandits to come back, and with the penalties Minnesota took in the fourth they caused the momentum to begin to swing. Although the Bandits only notched one goal in the third, it was apparent that they were beginning to gain steam.
Two players that really were the spark for Buffalo were forwards Chad Culp and Dhane Smith. Culp’s five points (3+5) lead the team and Dhane Smith, in his first game in Buffalo, made fans get excited for the future of the team. Not only did he put up a solid three goals and one assist, he made many smart plays. This includes a dish from the corner with less than a minute left to keep possession on his side. The night was truly a memorable one for him.
“I was nervous, but I’m nervous every game,” said Smith. “The first half of last game I was really nervous. My hands were shaking, I could barely catch the ball. But I used to it in the second half and played my game, and tonight I did the same.”
Kilgour was very impressed with his game tonight and thought that he played much better than he did last night against the Wings.
“I want him to know that not only do I believe in him but the whole team does,” said Kilgour on Smith. “He’s going to be the future of this team.”
With about four minutes left in the game Smith scored the goal that would end up being the game winner. “They gave me a change to go one on one,” Smith began. “I beat him and closed my eyes on shot it and it went in.”
The Bandits had issues last season with secondary scoring, but that wasn’t a problem tonight. The team got goals from eight different players, with only three scoring more than one goal. Chad Culp sees this as a very good sign for the fluidity of the Buffalo offense.
“When we have one guy scoring all the goals they can shut him down,” said Culp. “We get stagnant; maybe don’t get the quality shots that we’re looking for. It’s good to have balanced scoring like that.”
The Bandits have many new faces in the roster, which caused speculation that the team would have some trouble jelling early in the season. Although they did have some struggles when it came to passes and gave up two shorthanded goals, for the most part the offense seemed to look like a unified squad.
“You’ve got to know people’s tendencies, what they like to do,” said Culp. “Like with Aaron Wilson, he’s a good off ball player and he cuts. So, when he’s out there you’ve got too be looking for him.”
Minnesota was without their captain Andrew Suitor, who is serving a two game suspension for an incident in the playoffs last season. They also lost Andrew Watt to an injury, and both losses appeared to be strong blows to the Swarm roster.
“To start the game without [Suitor], the heart and soul of our team, that’s definitely tough,” said Sullivan. “That’s a lot a minutes that had to be pushed onto someone else who normally wouldn’t see that, but that’s why you have a 23 man roster.”
The win for Buffalo is the first of the season and helps them avoid falling to 0-2 to start the season. Although they have had issues with penalties and digging themselves into holes, tonight’s game should serve as a confidence boost for the season going forward. They have a very important game next week as they head to Rochester on Saturday.
Minnesota hopes to square away the issues that they had this weekend in time for their match up with Toronto in two weeks. Even with the loss tonight, the team looked solid and their top scorers showed up to play. Still a team with one of the best young cores in the league, Minnesota still looks like a contender. They just need to make sure that their scoring translates to increases in the win column.