The Buffalo Bandits (5-1) broke away in the fourth quarter and emerged victorious with a 12-10 win against the Toronto Rock (2-3), Saturday night in front of 12,768 fans at the First Niagara Center.
Buffalo concluded the contest on a 3-1 run to clinch their fifth consecutive victory and their longest win streak since 2009. With the victory this evening against the Rock and a Rochester Knighthawks loss against the undefeated Edmonton Rush later this evening, the Bandits now have a game and a half lead in the Eastern Division heading into their Week 7 showdown with the Knighthawks.
Leading the way for the Bandits this evening was the stellar play of Mark Steenhuis. Steenhuis ended the evening with 6 points (4 G, 2 A, 12 LB) on his way to being named first star of the game by the media. Steenhuis scored the crucial goal for the Bandits with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter that would keep the Bandits lead firmly secured.
Also assisting Steenhuis this evening in their victory against the Rock was Dhane Smith with five points (5 A and 4 LB), Bandits captain John Tavares with four points (2 G, 2 A, 4 LB), and Ryan Benesch (3 G and 3 LB) and Shawn Williams (3 A and 5 LB) each had three points.
After the game, Steenhuis addressed the media on how the Bandits have been able to be so successful offensively this year compared to previous seasons.
“We kind of have a system in place and I think that you’re starting to see that work. We’re trying to work that whole floor, and you’re kind of seeing that pay dividends right now.”
Leading the offense for the Rock tonight was Garrett Billings. Billings earned the third star of the game with his five points (2 G, 3 A, 5 LB). Stephan Leblanc also had five points (2 G, 3 A, 8 LB), while both Josh Sanderson (3 G, 1 A, 3 LB) and Kasey Beirnes (2 G, 2 A, LB) each had four points.
With only 2:53 off the clock in the first quarter, Bandits forward Jamie Rooney opened the scoring. Rooney was able to send a scorcher of a shot far side past Rock goalie Nick Rose to give the Bandits the early lead.
Less than two minutes later Rock forward Kasey Beirnes was able to get a fast break on Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo to tie the game up at one goal apiece before the first media timeout.
During that media timeout, Tucker Williams, son of Bandits forward Shawn Williams, watched via a live video feed as the 12,768 in attendance at Banditland sang a special birthday song to him from his hospital bed in Toronto.
Buffalo Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said, “We told Tucker before the game that we wanted to get him a big present. We wanted to get a win for him and we did that.”
After about five minutes into the first quarter, the game started to turn into the same type of chippy playing style that seems to arise whenever these two cross-border rivals get together. Within that five minute time span you had each team sharing illegal cross-checking, slashing, roughing and intentional contact minor penalties.
Mark Steenhuis got the ball rolling again for the Bandits late into the first quarter as he received a stellar pass from Bandit transition specialist David Brock to put the Bandits back on top 2-1.
Less than a minute later, Rock forward Josh Sanderson received a ball that was deflected by Brock and was able to put one past a diving Cosmo to tie the game 2-2 heading into the second quarter. Cosmo went 11 for 13 in the opening quarter for the Bandits.
Just 45 seconds into the second quarter, Bandits defenseman Steve Priolo was able to pick off a pass from Garrett Billings and lead the Bandits on a two-on-one breakaway where he aided Ryan Benesch in slipping past a rocket over the shoulder of Nick Rose for a shorthanded goal.
Not letting up on the Bandits lead, the Rock answered back with a laser of a goal from Garrett Billings as he was able to go top shelf against Cosmo.
Less than a minute later, Bandits captain John Tavares led the Bandits on a two goal run. The first of Tavares goals was on the power play when he went high then low against Rose and slipped one through at 5:01. The second Tavares goal came less than three minutes later when he did the same high then low move against Rose.
The chippiness that began in the first quarter started to bleed through into the second quarter to the fact that both teams combined for an incredible 21 minor penalties in the first half.
The chippy kind of physicality kept the Bandits in the penalty dog house during the second quarter. While in there, the Rock was able to answer with their own two goal run from Billings and Sanderson.
Not desiring to leave the game all tied up at halftime, the Bandits were able to answer back with a second two goal run from Benesch and Steenhuis to leave the Bandits with a two goal 7-5 lead at halftime. Cosmo made 17 saves on 22 shots by halftime.
After receiving a spirited pep talk and a readjustment of strategy from head coach John Lovell at halftime, the Rock came blazing out of the gates in the third quarter. The Rock began the quarter on a three goal run with two coming from Leblanc and one coming from Rob Hellyer. The three goal run for the Rock gave them their first lead of the game but unfortunately it was also their last. It would finally take 10:12 later in the third before the Bandits finally responded back.
Bandits forward Chad Culp went coast to coast and landed one past Rose with Cosmo receiving the assist. Less than two minutes later, Brock was able to give the Bandits back the 9-8 lead when he was able to absorb a punishing hit from a Rock defender and then send a howitzer past Rose.
With the Bandits ahead 9-8 beginning the fourth quarter, now was not the time for the team to be taking penalties. Bandits captain John Tavares was on the receiving end of a five-minute major cross checking penalty.
With the Bandits down a man for five minutes, it was up to the defense to make one last final stand against the Rock’s lethal offense.
Leading the Bandit defense against this assault was the unbelievable play of star defenseman Rory Smith. Smith was awarded the “212 Bandit player of the game” for his unflinching leadership in the face of adversity. On that penalty kill he took a shot to the throat, dropped to his knees on the floor, regained whatever strength and composure he had left and immediately returned to directing the defense traffic for the Bandits.
Cordingley expressed his admiration for Smith after the game. “I have been coaching for a couple of years and there’s no one tougher than Rory Smith. He took the shot in the throat and he got back up. He’s tough…he’s real tough.”
The Bandits were able to hold off Toronto for 3:23 of the major penalty before Sanderson was able to find Beirnes on an across the crease quick stick past Cosmo to tie the game all up at 9-9.
The Bandits finally were able to put the game away when they went on their final three goal run of the game midway through the final quarter. Two of the three Bandits goals came from first star Steenhuis while Benesch received his third of the game.
Even though being down three goals late in the fourth quarter, the Rock refused to give up until the final buzzer. The Bandits received a minor penalty for too many men and the Rock capitalized on the power play when Sanderson was able to get the goal past Cosmo.
Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough as the Bandits came away with the 12-10 home victory against the Rock.
The Bandits will be hitting the road for a 7:30 pm game next Saturday at the Blue Cross Arena when they face the Rochester Knighthawks in a Week 5 rematch.