NLL: Bandits hold off Knighthawks to complete season sweep of crosstown rivals

BUFFALO, NY – FEBRUARY 3: (Photo by Mike Hetzel/NLL)

There are a couple things in our lives that are for certain: death, taxes, and the inability for the Buffalo Bandits and Rochester Knighthawks to play a boring lacrosse game. For the second week in a row, the Saturday Night Showcase featured the Buffalo Bandits, this time with them on their home floor against Rochester in their second meeting of the season. In front of 15,000+ we can assure you that this game did not disappoint.

Buffalo took game one of the season series a few weeks back, and another win would be crucial in the unified standings. With four players tallying six or more points, and holding off a late surge from the Knighthawks, Buffalo beat their crosstown rivals, 15-14. This game had a ton of scoring, some milestones and some firsts, as well as arguably the goal of the year. Let’s do it.

Buffalo used the momentum from rabid Banditland to get out to an early lead in the first quarter. Ryan Smith did silence the crowd, but only for a moment, by opening the scoring for Rochester. *Warning, the next three Bandits goals may cause excessive drooling and the desire to call ESPN to make sure they saw them.* The first Buffalo goal was courtesy of Chase Fraser, as he scooped up a loose ball, drove in, jumped, and faked a million times in the air before burying the shot. Side note: before the game, Tehoka Nanticoke was placed on IR, so in came Christian Watts for his first NLL game. Watts got his first NLL assist on the Fraser goal. Next up, we have Dhane Smith. Dhaner made sure to bury his shot after receiving a ridiculous behind-the-back pass from Chris Cloutier. Finally, and a goal of the year contender for sure, is Cloutier. Fraser was backing down a defender, hit Clooch at the front of the crease, and as he was slicing through defenders, he jumped and shot one-handed between his legs to beat Riley Hutchcraft. Where do these guys come up with this stuff? Dhane got his second of the quarter to close it out. 4-1 Buffalo after one.

No time to take a breather, as the scoring continued at an ever higher pace. Eight goals were scored in the second, four a side, and the environment definitely felt playoff-esque. Rochester goal scorers were Connor Fields three times and Thomas McConvey. As for Buffalo, they spread the wealth a little more and utilized transition to their advantage. Scorers were Nick Weiss, Dalton Sulver, Kyle Buchanan, and Cloutier, his second of the game, this one on the power play. After the dust settled, we sat at 8-5 Buffalo going into the half.

With four points in the first half, Dhane Smith reached the 1,000 point mark for his career. “I’ve had great teammates, a great organization, and a great mentor to be able to do that with. It’s not going to mean much if we don’t get this win, we have to keep pulling the rope.”

The goaltenders were quite busy in the first half, both facing a flurry of shots from two potent offenses. Matt Vinc was spectacular, making 27 saves on 32 shots. Hutchcraft struggled a bit in the second, but was stout nonetheless, stopping 24 of 32.

Hopefully halftime allowed you to catch your breath, because the scoring continued and the pace quickened. Another seven goals were scored in the third, with Buffalo edging Rochester four to three. Rochester goal scorers were Ryan Smith twice, giving him the hat trick, and Ryan Lanchbury. For Buffalo, Buchanan got his second, Byrne scored twice, and Fraser got his second. After three, 12-8 Buffalo. Vinc was unreal, the Buffalo defense was stifling, and the crowd definitely helped the cause.

If we know anything about this Rochester team, it is that they’re gritty and no lead is safe. The Knighthawks definitely made it interesting in the fourth. Ryan Smith tallied his fourth of the game to get the comeback started, but was quickly answered by Byrne’s third. Buchanan got his hat trick, but that’d be the last goal for Buffalo in over seven minutes of game time. Rochester proceeded to rattle off four straight to cut the deficit to one. Scorers in that run were Smth, giving him five, Fields on the power play, his fourth, Kyle Waters, and Lanchbury, his second. Blink your eyes, and the score was 14-13 Buffalo with 3:36 to play. The man of the hour, Cloutier, sealed the deal for Buffalo with his third, giving them the extra cushion. Dan Lomas got his first for Rochester in the late stages, but that’d be all she wrote. Your final from KeyBank, 15-14 Bandits.

Players of the game for Buffalo were Cloutier (3+3), Byrne (3+4), and Buchanan (3+1). Another milestone alert as Byrne reached the 400 career point mark. Vinc was unreal except for that stretch late in the fourth, stopping 50 of 64 in total. For Rochester, Smith (5+6), Fields (4+5), and Lanchbury (2+2) led the way. Hutchcraft had his moments, ultimately falling short. He made 41 saves on 56 shots.

“That’s two games in a row where we fell apart at the end of the game and gave up some goals,” said John Tavares after the game. “Teams see that and it gives them confidence. We have to make sure we handle that.”

The rookie, Watts, was all smiles after the game. “It was a cool experience to find out I was in,” he said. “I instantly called my family, they were pretty happy for me. There’s no place like Banditland, playing in front of 15,000 people. It was a cool experience, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

Buffalo (5-3) has some time off to rest before looking to add to their winning streak. They travel to Halifax (4-3)* for their next contest on Friday February 16th at 6:30pm. Rochester (3-4) sits in the middle of the pack in the standings and assuredly will look to string some wins together. They make the short trip back home to take on Georgia (5-4) this Saturday at 7pm.