With the Bandits (3-2) looking to even up their season series against the Black Wolves (3-2) and try to take back the lead in the Eastern Division, no better time to take advantage of that home momentum was Saturday night at the First Niagara Center as the franchise celebrated Champions night. With 13,556 fans and distinguished alumni in attendance at Banditland, the team did not disappoint as they buried the Black Wolves with the 12-10 victory.
NLL Player of the Month for January, Bandits forward Dhane Smith proved his scoring prowess once again as he led the team with six points points (3G, 3A). Bandit newcomer Daryl Veltman was second in team scoring with five points (1G, 4A). Both Alex Kedoh Hill (2G, 1A) and Tyler Ferreira (in his NLL debut) (1G, 2A) tied for third in team scoring with three points apiece.
On the other side of the coin, the Black Wolves Shawn Evans led the way for the Black Wolves with six points (1G, 5A) while Kevin Crowley (2G, 3A) was second on the team with five points and Kyle Buchanan (3G, 1A) recorded four points in the loss.
In the battle between the pipes, Davide DiRuscio came up with a huge game for the Bandits as he racked up 43 saves on 53 shots as he replaced starter Anthony Cosmo (who suffered a lower body injury during the morning shoot around).
After the game, DiRuscio praised his teammates and especially the defense with the win stating that “The defense played really great and they gave me the shots that I wanted to face. They did everything for me tonight. I try to stay as even as I can and not get emotionally too high or low. I’m working hard at every practice and staying ready for whatever happens.”
For the Black Wolves, their league leading starting goaltender Evan Kirk had a very off night as he only came up with 13 saves on 20 shots before being pulled in the second quarter for backup Tye Belanger who actually looked really solid with 34 saves on 38 shots in almost 43 minutes of game action.
In the opening quarter it was a special teams extravaganza as both teams combined to score five of seven goals coming from shorthanded or power play opportunities.
Sheldon Burns got the Black Wolves on the board first in the contest with a shorthanded coast to coast personal effort that sent a shot low against DiRuscio.
With the Bandits shorthanded due to a Kevin Brownell holding penalty, the Bandits special teams struck back against the heart of the New England defense with two back to back shorthanded goals from David Brock and Kedoh Hill to give the Bandits the lead back at 2-1 early in the first. Buffalo would also show their new found scoring prowess on the power play as they received two goals from Smith and Hill to give the Bandits the 4-2 lead midway through the first. Bandits’ rookie Anthony Malcolm would get one more late tally for the team and ended the first quarter with the team holding a commanding 5-2 lead at the end of one.
Not wanting to rest on their laurels, the Bandits continued to pour on the attack with an opening three goal run from Mitch Wilde, Mark Steenhuis and Ferreira to give the team an 8-2 lead midway through the second and chased Black Wolves league leading starter Evan Kirk out of the net and back to the bench with Belanger stuck looking to pick up the pieces.
Facing down a daunting six goal deficit and less than a minute on the clock, the Black Wolves were looking for some kind of momentum and they received it from forward Kyle Buchanan. Buchanan took full advantage of a DiRuscio error that caused the netminder to go out of the net to chase after the loose ball and Buchanan proceeded to make the steal and a full effort wraparound goal to make it an 8-3 Bandits lead at the half.
Black Wolves forwards Saunders and Evans used that late second quarter momentum and carried it into the third as they were each able to snipe a goal past DiRuscio to get the team back into it now only down by three with plenty of time to go into the third.
Looking to derail the Black Wolves three goal run, the Bandits rebounded in a big way with a three goal run of their own coming from Veltman’s lone goal of the game and two back to back power play goals from Smith to give the Bandits back the six goal 11-5 lead midway through the third. Crowley brought the Black Wolves back within five goals on a late third quarter error coming from Bandits defender Steve Priolo to give the Black Wolves some newfound momentum heading into the fourth.
The Black Wolves offense continued to feed off of that momentum and keep the Bandits on their toes for the rest of the game. The team went on a four goal run that saw two goals from Buchanan, one from Saunders and their final tally from Crowley but unfortunately it was too little too late. With the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Bandits transition specialist Kevin Brownell received a bullet of a pass from Priolo and buried the empty netter that sent the Black Wolves home with the 12-10 loss.
After the game, Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley was happy with how well the team played for the first 50 minutes but more concerned with how they fell flat on the remaining ten.
“We stopped making things happen. We were caught back on our heels. There are no excuses. We have to be better in that situation, but we found a way to hold onto the win. You’ve got to work for your wins. There are no easy ones as we saw tonight. Putting two wins together, that’s what we need to do.”
The Bandits will be looking for their first road victory of the season as they face the Georgia Swarm on Sunday, February 14th.