NLL: Emotional win for Tucker as Bandits double up Rock

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Emotional. That’s the best word that comes to mind after Saturday’s contest between the Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits.

It was the annual “Tucker Out Lymphoma” night in Buffalo, where both teams honored the late Tucker Williams. The son of former Bandit and Rock player Shawn Williams, Tucker lost his battle with Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 2014. Every year the Bandits honour him by wearing special jerseys that are auctioned off for a charitable cause.

“Shawn Williams came into the locker room before the game, and told us how much Tucker just loved his team so much,” Josh Byrne said after the game. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Shawn a little bit, and hearing him talk about Tucker, you’ve got to give it up to the little guy. I think he’s part of the Bandits’ DNA, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.”

There was absolutely no shortage of action, physicality, or scoring in this game especially on such a special night in Buffalo. Add the emotion of this game to a cross-border rivalry between these two teams, and it certainly did not disappoint. Buffalo never trailed in this game and beat Toronto 12-6 in impressive fashion, moving them to 3-0 and dropping Toronto to 2-2. It may have been cold and snowy in downtown Buffalo, but it felt like July with the amount of fireworks in this game.

After not playing in nearly a month, Buffalo came out of the gates red hot once again. After your standard “feeling out” process to begin the game, Josh Byrne found the back of the net twice at the 10:13 and 8:51 marks. An uneventful first quarter, dominated by Buffalo, was capped off by a goal from Buffalo’s Chase Fraser with 6:46 left, and that’s how the quarter finished. Round one to the Bandits. Spoiler alert: You’re going to read Fraser’s name again in this story.

The second quarter was a different story. It had a back-and-forth start, with a ton of good defense but sloppy passing from both squads. Any early scoring chances were saved by goaltenders Nick Rose and Matt Vinc. Toronto tallied their first goal of the game with 8:26 remaining in the second quarter as Dan Craig took an arid shot off the back wall and beat Vinc on the power play. Buffalo answered right back with a goal from Fraser, to give them their three-goal lead back. Turns out that three goal lead was not safe whatsoever. As we’ve said many times this year, cue the Buffalo second quarter meltdown. Toronto turned on the pressure with three goals in 2:23, two from Challen Rogers and one from Rob Hellyer. Tie game. Rogers had himself quite the half (2G/2A). The Toronto captain’s four first-half points gave him 100 in his career. Buffalo’s Ian MacKay beat Nick Rose with 52 seconds left to give Buffalo a 5-4 lead going into the half.

We’ve seen this from Buffalo in every game they’ve played this year. Hot starts, only to give leads up going into halftime. What is the disconnect? Not playing in nearly a month, getting too comfortable, the list could go on and on. But, another huge story has been Buffalo’s heroics going into the second half of games. Byrne opened the scoring (and proverbial floodgates) for Buffalo just 4:26 into the third quarter, making it 6-4 Buffalo. Assistant captain Dhane Smith got himself in the goal column shortly thereafter with a very patient, methodical snipe past Rose, which was point 700 in a very illustrious career. With goals from Byrne and Fraser, and one from Toronto’s Reid Reinholdt, the third quarter finished 9-5 Buffalo.

As the great Michael Buffer has so famously said, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” The story in the fourth quarter wasn’t so much about the scoring and slick passing from both teams. Rather, it was about physicality and emotions really coming out. Buffalo continued their second half dominance with an early goal from Fraser at the 13:15 mark of the quarter. Toronto’s Reinholdt answered shortly thereafter, making it 10-6 Buffalo. With 10:42 left in the fourth, the dynamic Buffalo rookie Tehoka Nanticoke found the back of the net. With 5:38 left in the quarter, the wrestling bell rang. The best way to describe this was a 10-man wrestling match in the corner of Toronto’s end. Fraser took a hit from Brad Kri and Sheldon Burns, and both teams jumped into that scrum. With the exception of Vinc, every single player was tangled up with someone and no amount of whistle blowing broke it up.

The final goal of the game was scored by Chris Cloutier with 4:53 left, making the score 12-6. Commence round two of the fisticuffs. With a mere 12 seconds left in the game, and after a variety of different penalties, nine-year-veteran Rock player Billy Hostrawser instigated a fight with Buffalo rookie Jordan Stouros, leaving him bleeding as they both exited the floor. Hostrawser took the brunt of the penalties.

Brent Noseworthy vs. Sheldon Burns. Buffalo Bandits vs Toronto Rock at KeyBank Center, January 8, 2022. (Photo by Ben Green)

Then with three seconds left, Buffalo’s Brent Noseworthy instigated a fight with Burns, also leading to game misconducts for both of them. In short, a very physical game by both clubs, but dominant for the Bandits once again.

The three stars of the game were Byrne, Fraser and Vinc. Of course Byrne and Fraser for their games offensively and Fraser throwing his body around all game long, and Vinc for having 45 saves on 51 shots.

“It was weird to wait so long to get the season started, and then to have a few weeks off in a row,” Vinc said.” We were ready to play tonight. It was a special night to get a big win.”

Unsung heroes would have to include Kyle Buchanan for picking up loose balls, MacKay for his role on defense, Cloutier for the points (1+5) and Stouros for his physicality all four quarters.

“I really liked the way our offensive guys stood up for each other. That helps team character,” Bandits’ head coach John Tavares said post-game.

Tavares was also asked about the breakdown in the second quarter and how the team addressed that at halftime: “They did a good job of pressing us. They created some turnovers and scored two of their goals that way. We adjusted to that.”  

The Bandits, who moved to 3-0 on the year, need not worry about any more breaks in the season. Barring any more postponements, They play 10 straight weeks going into the beginning of March.

Moving forward, one would have to assume Buffalo will stay sharp, as long as they can stay healthy. Buffalo gears up for another home game against Georgia (1-2) this Saturday at KeyBank Center.

As for Toronto (2-2), they hope to get two of their leading goal scorers in Dan Dawson and Tom Schreiber, back from Covid and the holdout list, respectively. The Rock head home to take on the Halifax Thunderbirds (2-0) next week at FirstOntario Centre.