After coming away with two huge Western Division victories over the Saskatchewan Rush and Vancouver Stealth in recent weeks, the Buffalo Bandits were faced with the difficult challenge of making it three wins in a row when they faced off against their Thruway rivals the Rochester Knighthawks at the First Niagara Center Friday night.
In their first of three important regular season matchups on the schedule with Rochester, the Bandits would need to come away with the victory in the hopes of bettering their record in the Eastern Division along with getting the early regular season series advantage against their Thruway rivals.
For the viewers watching at home and especially the 18,751 fans at the First Niagara Center, everyone was at hand to see a truly memorable moment in NLL history as the Buffalo Bandits took time out to retire the jersey of the NLL’s all time leading scorer and celebrate the legendary career of forward/current assistant coach John Tavares.
It was an especially memorable moment seeing his number 11 banner placed in its rightful spot up in the rafters alongside his legendary teammates the Kilgour brothers (Rich and Darris).
Throughout the night, the team played clips of fellow Buffalo legends (Buffalo Sabers’ Gilbert Perreault, Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas), coworkers at the school where Tavares teaches, and his family all taking time out to celebrate and thank him on his long and legendary career.
“I thought it was a nice tribute. When I first came to the Bandits I wanted to wear number six but they gave me number 11. I said ‘number 11, that Gilbert Perreault’s number and it put some added pressure on me,” said Tavares. “I’m glad that I did the number proud once again”.
The game was truly a back and forth tug of war between the Bandits (7-4) and the Knighthawks (4-5) as each team never let the either truly run away with the game at any point and no lead was greater than four goals. In the end, it was the four goal run by the Bandits in the fourth quarter that took them over the top with the 13-10 home victory.
In a night that not only celebrated the career of Tavares, three other important Bandits career milestones were also received this night as Mark Steenhuis would get his 900th point, Dhane Smith would get his 300th point and Alex Kedoh-Hill received his 100th point.
After the game, Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley celebrated the complete game that was brought by the team this evening with “We played well the entire game tonight. Our defense played extremely well and Cosmo was big in net making some huge saves. Our offense has drastically improved and they played well again tonight too.”
Leading the way for the Bandits in the victory tonight was the outstanding play once again from current NLL league leader in points Dhane Smith. Smith led all scorers this evening with seven points (4G, 3A). Also contributing in the victory was the six point efforts from forwards Mark Steenhuis (3G, 3A) and Ryan Benesch (2G, 4A).
Bandits starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo had another huge evening between the pipes by saving 42 shots out of a possible 52 in the complete game victory.
After a pretty uneven start to the season due to inconsistency and nagging injuries, Cordingley still had plenty of praise for his starter with “Everybody has some tough ones, but he’s such a professional and he bites his lip, carries on and makes himself better. That’s why he’s been so good in this league for so long.”
Leading the charge for the Knighthawks in the loss to the Bandits were the five point efforts from forwards Stephen Keogh (3G, 2A) and Cody Jamieson (2G, 3A) while also receiving four point efforts from Cory Vitarelli (3G, 1A) and Dan Dawson (2G, 2A).
Even though the game ended in a loss for the Knighthawks, starting goaltender Matt Vinc still had himself a pretty solid game with 44 saves on 56 shots. Very few of the Bandits goals saw Vinc being truly beat on the shot and the majority being trickles into the net.
Bandits opened the scoring with a pair of goals coming from Smith and Benesch. Midway through the first quarter, the Bandits league leading penalty kill faced its first challenges of the evening as it was trying to kill off a two minute holding penalty from Kevin Brownell and a two minute boarding penalty from Steve Priolo. Unfortunately for the special teams, tonight was not their night as Knighthawks forwards Jamieson and Keogh made them pay and tied the game at two goals apiece. The Bandits special teams play did receive a little bit of redemption when Steenhuis converted on their first power play advantage of the evening and the 3-2 first quarter lead.
The second quarter saw each team go on a two goal run for their respective team. Anthony Malcom and Tyler Ferreira each scored for the Bandits while Dawson and Jamieson would score for the Knighthawks. The Bandits retained their one goal lead heading into halftime with the score of 5-4.
Smith scored his second goal of the game early in the third quarter of the game to give the Bandits their second two goal lead of the game at 6-4. The stellar play of Knighthawks forwards Keogh and Vitarelli factored heavily into a killer momentum boost for the team as Keogh would tally one goal and Vitarelli would score back-to-back goals to give the Knighthawks their first lead of the game at 7-6.
Late into the third the momentum would swing right back into the Bandits favor as they received a pair of goals from Smith and Kedoh-Hill to give the 8-7 one goal lead back to the team to end the third quarter.
Not wasting any time to get the Knighthawks back on the board was Keogh as he would score his third and final goal of the game with less than one minute off the board in the fourth quarter.
Closing out games in the fourth quarter has never been the Bandits strong suit this season. But, this already special night proved to give the team some extra momentum boost to keep the Knighthawks down for good as the team would go on a four goal run over the span of 6 minutes midway through the fourth from Benesch, Smith and two goals from Steenhuis to give the team the 12-8 lead with five minutes left in the game.
Two very quick late goals from Vitarelli and Dawson proved there was still some fight in the Knighthawks but it proved to be too little too late. Steve Priolo would get a late empty net goal as the Knighthawks pulled Vinc so they could get the extra attacker and the game would conclude with the 13-10 Bandits home victory.
NLL leading scorer Smith had another incredible night with seven points and especially enjoyed defeating the Knighthawks on this special night.
“It was a big win. We owed them for beating us a few times last year and especially beating them tonight for ‘JT’ felt good.”
Buffalo will be off on a bye week before returning back in action Friday night March 25th in their second and final showdown of the year against the Vancouver Stealth. In their first matchup of the season, Buffalo came away with the 13-8 road victory.