NLL: Bandits win it for Tucker

Tucker Out Lymphoma night. Buffalo Bandits vs Halifax Thunderbirds at KeyBank Center, February 29, 2020. (Photo by Sara Schmidle)

The Bandits won one for Tucker.

On a special night in Buffalo, Banditland came together to honour the memory of Tucker Williams and came away with a 13-9 victory over the Halifax Thunderbirds. It was the Bandits’ seventh annual Tucker Out Lymphoma game.

“Both teams fought hard to win that game in tribute to Tucker,” said Bandits’ head coach John Tavares. The 8-year-old son of former Bandits’ great Shawn Williams passed away in 2014 from Burkitt lymphoma, a loss that still sends waves of grief throughout the lacrosse community.

Josh Byrne led the Bandits with four goals, and opened the scoring with back-to-back markers. Chris Cloutier also scored a pair in the period, his first coming from an underhand blast and the second on Warren Hill’s doorstep finishing off Byrne’s behind-the-back pass. The Bandits went to the second with a 5-0 lead.

Tucker Out Lymphoma 2020. (Photo courtesy of Hinda Koza-Culp)

Contests between the NLL’s North Division teams have been great clashes this season with the Bandits, Thunderbirds and Rock all holding the league’s top spot at least once. Based on talent alone, it was surprising to see the Thunderbirds fall so far behind in the first, but when you take into consideration the importance of the game to the Bandits’ players and fans, it becomes less surprising. Emotional games always give you an extra edge.

“We had a good talk at the beginning about Tucker and what this game really meant. It really hit home,” said Byrne. “I think you saw that energy come out of us at the beginning. At the end of the day that one’s for Tucker.”

Mitch deSnoo put the Bandits up 6-0 just 25 seconds into the third, but Scott Campbell finally got the Thunderbirds on the board eight seconds later after they switched Hill for Pete Dubenski. Dubenski finished the game with 28 saves.

Byrne and Chase Fraser also scored for Buffalo in the second while Austin Shanks scored for Halifax. At halftime, Buffalo led 8-2.

Byrne and Fraser bookended the scoring in the third but Halifax put together a three-goal run to begin to close the gap. Shanks scored a pair before Stephen Keogh scored with an extra attacker.

Halifax continued their strong play in the fourth. Cody Jamieson, Shanks and Ryan Benesch, with his 450th career goal, scored in succession. Corey Small yanked the momentum back to Buffalo’s side finishing off a 2-on-1 with Nick Weiss for the Bandits’ 11th goal. Recently acquired Dan Lintner then ingratiated himself to Banditland scoring a pair of goals 1:32 apart, first diving over the crease and then potting a strong overhand shot.

“Halifax have had a lot of major comebacks this year. They kept coming and coming. They made a run there,” said Tavares. “That goal Smallsy scored was a big goal. They score [again it’s a one-goal] game. When was the last time we had a six-goal lead? Never.”

Halifax did everything they could to complete the comeback – Austin Shanks had 19 shots on goal and Jake Withers won 25 of 27 faceoffs. But Matt Vinc’s 54 saves were a big factor in Buffalo’s win. So too, was the crowd cheering on their Bandits to victory in memory of one of their favourite sons.

The two teams meet again this coming Sunday at 2 p.m. ET when the Bandits make their first trip to Nova Scotia.