NLL: Bandits get big win for weather-ravaged Buffalo

BUFFALO, NY – December 30 2022 : NLL regluar season game action between the Halifax Thunderbirds and Buffalo Bandits at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY

It’s no surprise to anyone that wintertime in Buffalo, New York can be quite nasty. But this past week leading up to Friday night’s showdown with Halifax was another level. Snow, wind and bone-chilling temperatures all caused blizzard-like conditions in the Western New York area. Some even said that this topped the Blizzard of ‘77 (if you know, you know). With that, came people getting stranded, having no power, or not being able to get essentials. Unfortunately, there were some casualties because of the storm, so the Buffalo Bandits held a moment of silence before the game for those who lost their lives during this storm.

It’s also no surprise that the Bandits love the city of Buffalo and the feeling is more than reciprocated from the fans. The Bandits are not shy about playing for their city, especially after tragedy happens and when folks need an escape, or a pick-me-up. What better than a massive 18-13 win over their division rivals, the Halifax Thunderbirds. There were 14,000+ happy-campers at KeyBank Center Friday night. Let’s get to the action.

Allow me to set the stage, or try to. This contest felt like more than just a week five matchup between two juggernauts. There were definitely some playoff vibes in the air, as well as having some insane goals and a touch of hostility. If you have time, rewatch this one (ESPN+ in the U.S. or the NLL Facebook page in Canada).

Chris Boushy got Halifax on the board first, as he netted a power play goal just two minutes in. Boushy was set up by consecutive behind-the-back passes from his teammates. Pretty stuff to start from the T-birds. Josh Byrne had an answer, and as you’ll see, had himself quite the game. Randy Staats got Halifax back in front, but was answered by Byrne’s second. 2-2 after one.

The second quarter was massive. 12 total goals were scored, six by each side. Wake:Riat BowHunter scored to open the quarter and was followed up by teammate Cody Jamieson. Buffalo had a quick answer as Byrne got his hat trick and Tehoka Nanticoke got his first. Both of those Buffalo goals were scored shorthanded. Ryan Benesch stopped the Bandits’ momentum on the ensuing draw, burying a power play goal. The pace was definitely picking up. Less than 30 seconds later, rookie Dylan Robinson scored a beauty in transition for his first career goal. Buffalo finally notched one on the power play, as Byrne tallied his fourth. That’s two shorties and a power play goal for Byrne so far. Clarke Petterson had a quick answer for Halifax, but Brandon Robinson answered that right back. Byrne got his fifth, and Halifax rattled off two straight from Staats and Jamieson to end the quarter. 8-8 going into the half. Whew.

Both goaltenders saw their fair share of shots in the first half. Matt Vinc stopped 21 of 29. On the other side, Warren Hill made 14 saves on 22 shots.

Byrne was asked at half about his five goals thus far, two of which were shorthanded: “It’s been a weird pace of game. A lot of penalties, a lot of power plays, we’re just trying to find our mark here. You’re just trying to get shots on net, that’s all you can really ask for.”

The third quarter started and the Halifax scoring stopped. Buffalo came out and completely slowed the game down and limited any and all Halifax chances. An eight-time Goalie of the Year certainly helps too. Buffalo rattled off five straight in the third. Goals were scored by: Dhane Smith, Nanticoke, Kyle Buchanan, Ian MacKay and Byrne. Just a few notes on those. Buchanan’s was pretty slick, diving from behind the net; Byrne’s was his sixth; and MacKay’s caused the removal of Hill from the game, bringing in backup Drew Hutchison. Just like that, it was 13-8 Buffalo, with 3:01 left to play in the third.

One thing we’ve learned so far this season is Halifax has some serious fire-power on offense, and they certainly wouldn’t go away. Austin Shanks and Boushy scored to end the quarter. 13-10 going into the final frame.

The fourth quarter was another track meet. Both teams utilized quick transition play to cash in. Byrne notched his seventh to open the quarter on the powerplay, and was answered by Staats’ hat trick. Jamieson got his hat trick, but was answered by Matt Spanger. With the exception of the Buffalo run in the third, every time either team scored, their opposition had an answer. Smith got his second, but Petterson had the answer with his second on the power play. Smith got his hat trick to bump the Buffalo lead to four, and Nick Weiss buried an empty netter to make it 18-13 to close this one out. Tempers boiled over at the end of the game as Jake Withers checked Max Adler into the boards, resulting in them dropping the mitts.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Byrne (7+4), Smith (3+7), and Buchanan (1+4). Vinc found his stride in the second half, finishing with 44 saves on 57 shots. For Halifax, Staats (3+5), Jamieson (3+3), and Petterson (2+5) led the way. As previously stated, Hill was removed midway through the third. He made 21 saves on 33 shots before his removal. Hutchison stopped 13 of 18 in about 20 minutes of gameplay. Withers shone at the faceoff dot, winning 28 of 35 draws.

“At the beginning of this game, part of my dedication to this game was to the city of Buffalo,” said head coach John Tavares. “I don’t think people realize how resilient the people who live in Buffalo are.”

“I’m just super proud of the boys,” said Byrne postgame. “Starting 0-1 against Albany, was a big hit for us. For us to walk into Toronto and battle one out there and come here and have a big statement win against Halifax, it says a lot about our group.”

Buffalo (2-1) looks to continue their momentum. They travel to Georgia to take on the Swarm (0-2) Saturday night at 7 p.m. Halifax (2-1) still sits towards the top of the Eastern Division. They will look to get back in the win column, as they travel to Albany to take on the FireWolves (1-1), Saturday night at 7pm.