NLL: Bandits show quick improvement in season opener

The Toronto Rock made the short trip down the QEW to Banditland to square off against a heated rival in the Buffalo Bandits at the KeyBank Center for the first game of Face-Off Weekend. The Rock are coming off an average 9-9 season while the Bandits just could not find their stride going only 6-12 for last place in the league.

The Twitter game of the week was a spectacle both inside the arena to the packed orange and white home crowd, to the blue and red visiting crowd. The pesky Bandits got on the Rock’s case from the opening face-off and did not let go of the momentum, taking the game 13-9.

The new look Bandits, with 40% of their roster made up by new faces, were peppered by the Rock shooters, but it was bright orange Cascade helmet clad Alex Buque, Mammoth turned Bandit, who held off the onslaught of rubber thrown at him during the first quarter. The Bandits created over six transition opportunities and used the momentum created in the defensive zone to go up 3-0 late into the first. The highly potent Rock offensive rolled two quick ones past Buque to erase a two goal deficit and bring them within one at the end of the first quarter.

With both teams trading goals and totalling 10 of them, the first half ended with score of 5-5. The Bandits did not look offbeat at all with their new roster as they stood toe to toe with 2015 50 goal scorer Brett Hickey. The Rock’s high-tempo offence used their playmaking ability and dynamic cuts and picks in the offensive zone to control the floor when they had the ball. Rock goaltender Nick Rose held down his end of the floor but was caught off guard as he was beat with a “reach around” diving goal from Buffalo’s Mitch Jones at the 3:48 mark of the second.

Third quarter scoring was opened by Buffalo rookie Josh Byrne who set the Bandits on a 5-3 goal difference making the game 10-8 late in the fourth quarter. The game was capped off by two Buffalo empty net goals from Mark Steenhuis and Nick Weiss, who scored his second of the game. The Rock battled tremendously during the fourth quarter but failed to tie it up.

The Rock ended this game totalling 64 shots on goal as Rose made 45 saves; the Bandits totalled 58 shots as Alex Buque stopped 55 shots. Each team scored three times on power plays. Brodie Merrill and Weiss picked up shorthanded goals.

Dhane Smith led the Bandits with a goal and six assists. Byrne came next with a goal and four assists. Callum Crawford and Jordan Durston, both off-season acquisitions, had four points each.

Dan Lintner led the Rock with a hat-trick. Newcomer Adam Jones had two goals and three assists to lead the team in scoring after one game. 2016 rookie of the year Tom Schreiber had three assists.

Friday’s game was a typical Buffalo-Toronto rivalry game complete with acrobatic goals, jaw-dropping saves and some fisticuffs. It is easy to see just how there is no love lost between these teams and with the Bandits sealing the deal, look for an elevated level of play when the teams meet again at the Air Canada Centre on December 30.

The Bandits improve to 1-0 as the Rock fall to 0-1 to start the season. The Rock’s next game is on December 16th as they play host to the Saskatchewan Rush at the ACC in their home opener, while the Bandits travel to Rochester for a date with the Knighthawks on December 21st.