Bandits Best K’hawks; Claim Eastern Conference 1st Place

The Buffalo Bandits (4-1) seized sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division by holding on to an 11-10 home victory over the two-time defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks (3-1) before the 13,339 Banditland faithful at First Niagara Center.

After beginning the 2014 season with an embarrassing 17-13 home loss to the Philadelphia Wings, the Bandits refocused on their game strategy and are now flying high on a four-game win streak. For the Knighthawks, they have suffered their first loss of the 2014 season, ended their three-game win streak and surrendered the lead in the Eastern Division to the Bandits.

Leading the Bandits to the victory this evening was the stellar play of the NLL’s all time leading scorer John Tavares with four goals.

“I can’t describe (John Tavares),” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “When we needed a big goal when they went on a run, he scored for us. That was huge.”

Another fellow Bandit who stepped up and had a career highlight this evening was forward Joe Resetarits. Resetarits recorded his first career hat-trick in front of his family and friends and the rest of the Banditland faithful in attendance. Resetarits recollected on this amazing personal achievement.

“It’s awesome. Being a little kid, having season tickets and seeing guys like Steenhuis and JT do that (jumping into the boards after a hat-trick) and just scoring that in a black and orange home game, it was just amazing experiencing that.”

After the game, Resetarits even received quite a bit of praise from his head coach.

“Joe’s been a really good player for us the entire year,” Cordingley said. “His speed and shot are amazing. He works hard all of the time; the shots are starting to fall.”

The Bandits began the scoring right out of the gate. Not even 1:50 into the first quarter, Bandits forward Dhane Smith received a behind the back pass from Mark Steenhuis and sent a rocket over Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc’s shoulder for the only goal of the first quarter.

Knighthawks forwards Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson had some of the best chances in that first quarter, but both were held in check by the stifling Bandits defense and the outstanding play of goaltender Anthony Cosmo. Cosmo went a perfect seven-for-seven in the first for the Bandits and held the Knighthawks scoreless over a quarter for the eighth time in franchise history.

While the Bandits defense continued to stand their ground against the Knighthawks in the second quarter, the Bandits offense capitalized on the situation at hand.

The Bandits began the scoring on two goals from forward Joe Resetarits. The first goal from Resetarits (2:50 in the second) was on a rebound from a shot by Shawn Williams while the second goal was a stick-side Howitzer past Vinc a minute later.

John Tavares continued the scoring run for the Bandits when the captain beat Vinc on a five-hole shot. The Knighthawks were finally able to get on the board midway through the second quarter when defenseman Joel McCready was finally able to put one past Cosmo.

Trying not to let the Knighthawks get back into the game, John Tavares and Shawn Williams reignited the Bandits offense for another two-goal run, giving the Bandits the five-goal (6-1) lead late into the second quarter. Cody Jamieson scored for Rochester at 13:57 to make it a Bandits 6-2 lead heading into halftime.

The offense momentum for the Bandits followed them into the third quarter. The “212” hard hat winner for the Bandits, assistant captain Shawn Williams, scored his second goal of the game on the power play to extend the Bandits lead. After Cody Jamieson scored his own power play goal for the Knighthawks, Buffalo concluded the third quarter on a three goal run with two coming from captain John Tavares and one from assistant captain Mark Steenhuis. The three goal run left the advantage heavily in the Bandits favor with a 10-3 lead heading into the final quarter of the game.

Through three quarters of play, those in attendance for tonight’s game at the First Niagara Center were witness to Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo putting on the performance of the year. Throughout those three quarters, Cosmo played like a man possessed. At several times during the second quarter Cosmo turned away point-blank shots from some of the best scorers the NLL has to offer. Cosmo was on fire in turning away 34 of Rochester’s 37 shots on goal for a .919 save percentage.

“I thought Cosmo was exceptional tonight,” Cordingley said. “It was probably the best I have seen him play in a Bandits uniform. When we broke down, he was there to make the big save.”

On the other side of the coin, Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc (who led the NLL with a .833 save percentage entering the game) was having a night that he would rather like to forget. After allowing four goals out of eight shots in the third quarter and 25 saves on 35 shots overall (.714 save percentage), he was pulled by Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen and replaced by former Bandits goaltender Angus Goodleaf. This was the first time since February 8, 2009 that Vinc was unable to finish the entire game as starter.

With three quarters in the books, the Knighthawks (down seven goals heading into the fourth quarter) would prove why they are the back-to-back defending NLL champions by refusing to go down without a fight.

The Knighthawks opened the fourth quarter with a 2-0 run on goals from Scott Self and Cody Jamieson. Joe Resetarits’s third goal of the game kept the Knighthawks at bay for a moment but they were hungry for more. The Knighthawks then went on a 5-0 goal run with five minutes remaining in the game to notch it up at 11-10 with 19 seconds remaining in the game.

“In the last five minutes we gave up two pretty quick and I think guys got a little scrambled, our bench got a little bit disorganized,” Cosmo said. “It’s something for us to learn from. In this league, you can’t let up for five minutes.”

Buffalo would ultimately win the next faceoff and maintain possession till the final horn had sounded.

“We were pressing (late in the game) and they were dropping for us,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “A little bit of desperation. It’s good that we gave ourselves a chance, but they outplayed us for 55 minutes.”

Buffalo’s next game will be Saturday February 1 at the First Niagara Center in a rematch with their Week 2 opponents, the Toronto Rock.