NLL: Matt Vinc outduels Ryan Benesch in a match of milestone nights 

Halifax, Nova Scotia – Mar 03, 2023: National Lacrosse League game between the Halifax Thunderbirds and Buffalo Bandits at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Thunderbirds)

It was a night of milestones in Halifax on Friday night.

Ryan Benesch became sixth player in NLL history to reach 500 goals on a hat-trick goal. However, it was not enough for the Halifax Thunderbirds to overcome the Buffalo Bandits. Buffalo’s goalie, Matt Vinc, stopped a back-door shot to secure the 10-9 victory for the Bandits during his record breaking 262nd game, the most ever by a goalie. 

“I think just looking at an Eastern conference rival, a tough place to play for us and missing some key players on our own, I think it is just a good character win for us because (Halifax) is a heck of a team,” said Vinc. 

By playing in this game, Vinc passes Brandon Miller for the most games played by a goaltender. Vinc has been in the league since 2006, and won eight Goaltender of the Year awards. It is fitting he broke the record against the Thunderbirds – he played for the franchise when they were in Rochester and won his only championships with them, three straight from 2012-2014. His championship teammates include three Thunderbirds: captain Cody Jamieson, head coach Mike Accursi and assistant general manager Scott Campbell. 

“I’m just really thankful to play in the league for as long as I have, and obviously, you can’t do that without the support of people, staying healthy, and it is definitely an honour just to play the game,” said Vinc. 

Ryan Benesch was not shy of the drama in the game. He needed a hat trick to secure his 500th goal, and he did just that. He recieved a pass 6:35 into the third quarter in his sweet spot on the right side of the high slot and ripped it past Vinc to bury the milestone. Benesch was a Bandit from 2014-2017, which included the best season of his career when he put up 55 goals and 113 points in 2015. 

“It’s a cool feeling, for sure. I’d rather have a win tonight, but as I always say, my accomplishments are team accomplishments. I’m a product of my teammates and coaches, so the credit really goes to them,” said Benesch. 

Buffalo got the early jump in this game. 

Ian MacKay must have found out one of the prominent bridges in Halifax is called the MacKay bridge because he got off to a hot start. He took advantage of an excellent pick from Tehoka Nanticoke high in the offensive zone and ran in to fire it past Halifax’s goalie, Warren Hill, to open the scoring. 

MacKay wasn’t done. He scored again five minutes later, then completed the hat trick a minute after that and gave Buffalo a 3-0 lead going into the second quarter.  

Nearly three minutes into the second quarter, Austin Shanks ripped a shot past Vinc to break open the scoring for the Thunderbirds. 

Then Benesch went to work. He scored two goals from the left corner of the arch to tie the game for Halifax. 

The teams remained close, with Chris Boushy and Nick Weiss trading goals for both teams. But Halifax was determined to go to the half with the lead. Tyson Bell ripped a shot in transition to put them up 5-4. They outscored Buffalo 5-1 in the second quarter. 

The Bandits came back after the half hungry. Nick Weiss and Dylan Robinson scored to give them a 6-5 lead early in the third quarter. 

But the Thunderbirds punched right back with history. Cody Jamieson fed the ball to Ryan Benesch in his sweet spot and he fired it past fellow milestone player Matt Vinc to score his 500th goal.  

Benesch has played for nine teams over his 17-year career. Halifax has been his home for only two of those years; however, he’s felt a special connection with the city and the team. 

“It’s meant a lot to me,” said Benesch. “This city really embraced us from day one, and it’s definitely a place you love coming to and love playing. It sucked being away last year. But when I was a free agent in the summer, my mind and my heart said Halifax; if I could get back here, I was going. I love this city, I love this team.” 

Benesch’s goal gave the Thunderbirds some life. Randy Staats and Cody Jamieson scored quickly after to put Halifax up 8-6. 

Up until this point of the game, Dhane Smith was quiet with two assists. However, he decided to take over when it mattered most. Smith scored his first goal with four minutes left in the third quarter. Then with 22 seconds left, Johnny Pearson hounded him, but Smith stepped back and wired one into the back of the net, tying the game at eight. 

Tehoka Nanticoke scored to keep the run going for Buffalo to start the fourth quarter. Then Smith had Tyson Bell all over him, pushing and whacking him, but again, Smith stepped back and found the top corner to make the game 10-8 for Buffalo. 

“We’re pretty thankful to have Dhane Smith on our team and score a couple of huge goals late,” said Vinc. 

However, Halifax leading scorer Randy Staats wouldn’t let the Thunderbirds go away easily. He outmaneuvered a defender in close to score and got them within one. 

Halifax pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and nearly scored when Austin Shanks connected on a back-door shot, but Vinc managed to get a glove on it to keep it out and seal the win for Buffalo. He stopped 43 shots in the game. 

They have a world-class goalie down there, and he’s tough to beat,” said Benesch. “And hats off to him. He played great.”

The Thunderbirds drop to five wins and six losses, not where they want to be as a championship contender heading into the season. This is the third game they’ve lost by one goal this season. 

“I think we’re struggling with our identity a little bit,” said Halifax’s assistant captain Graeme Hossack. “I know it’s halfway through the season, but we just have to find who we are. I know we can, there were moments in that game where you can see the type of team we can be. It’s about doing that for 60 minutes game in and game out.” 

The Bandits keep on rolling, improving their record to 9-2. They are also rolling against the Thunderbirds, winning all four meetings against Halifax over the past two seasons. 

“Sometimes it’s just the way the game goes,” said Vinc. “If you look at these two games (this season) alone, there’s times where we’re pretty fortunate bounces go our way. We score some timely goals, but they’re battles. It’s not like we’re outright winning, they’re tough tests. That’s a well coached team with a lot of great players and we expect a tough game next Friday.” 

 The Thunderbirds will have an opportunity for revenge when they play the Bandits next week in New York State. 

“That’s kind of the best opportunity for us,” said Hossack. “We get a chance to redeem ourselves, we have them in their home and we’re going to be bringing it. So it is the best case scenario in terms of trying to redeem ourselves.”