By Joe Ray - Bandits.com
BUFFALO, N.Y.- Buffalo Bandits fans packed First Niagara Center to cheer on their team on a special night. Unfortunately, a six-goal run in the fourth quarter gave the Calgary Roughnecks a 16-13 victory over the Bandits on Saturday.
Calgary's Shawn Evans, the third-leading scorer in the NLL entering tonight's game, drove his team to victory leading all players in the game with two goals and five assists. Dane Dobbie contributed four goals and an assist for the Roughnecks, while Jeff Shattler added four assists.
The Bandits were led offensively by Ryan Benesch, who turned in a strong performance with two goals and four assists. Forward Joe Resetarits and transition Jay Thorimbert each had two goals and two assists in the loss. Goaltender Anthony Cosmo stopped 35 of 50 shots against a potent Calgary offense.
After the son of Bandits forward Shawn Williams was diagnosed with lymphoma, tonight was designated "Tucker Out Lymphoma" Night. Williams explained that Tucker was not expecting to be at the game, but after his final round of chemotherapy was delayed, his son was feeling up to making a return to Banditland.
A crowd of 16,606 was on site to welcome Tucker back to First Niagara Center. When Tucker was shown on the jumbotron, the crowd exploded into possibly the most raucous cheer of the season. Tucker simply took the thrill of the moment in perfect stride.
"He was a little shy at first, but he said, 'I'll take it,'" Williams said.
The Bandits carried a 12-9 lead into the final 15 minutes of regulation, but the Roughnecks strung together six goals in a 5:13 stretch during the fourth quarter to pull away with the win. While the defense certainly started the game strong, Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley saw his defensemen wear out over the course of the game.
"The way I look at it is our defense was so tired that they, for the first time in the game, started losing assignments and messing up and things like that," Cordingley said. "Our defense played an awful lot, especially when they're chasing numbers. That takes a toll on people. It's frustrating, but it's correctable. You're going to get out of it what you put into it."
While the Bandits have found success at times this season by using their strong defense to push for transition opportunities, the breakneck pace of this game did not end up benefitting the home team.
"I thought we controlled the most part of that game, and then we just had a letdown," said John Tavares. "They had the ball a lot and they buried their chances. They scored in transition, 5-on-5, and on the power play in that fourth, and they got a lot of momentum. You could see the confidence when they had the ball. When we got the ball, we started panicking a bit.
"They had a good run, and ended up winning the game. They scored when it counted."
With the Roughnecks arriving in Western New York off a big 13-9 win in Philadelphia on Friday, getting off to a quick start was a must for the Bandits entering the game. Goals from Joe Resetarits, Aaron Wilson, Chad Culp, and Mark Steenhuis in the first 6:39 of the game helped the Bandits accomplish that goal.
Williams added that the Bandits were simply unable to hold off the Calgary attack for the entire game following Buffalo's four-goal opening run.
"We've got a great team and a great defense to push the ball as well, so we don't mind the pace," he said. It's just when you have the lead, you're trying to find that right mix of push or settle. Obviously hindsight, when you lose and you miss some chances to settle the ball, we should have.
It's finding that happy medium, and obviously tonight it didn't work out because it was up and down for four or five minutes straight there, and we just didn't capitalize enough."
Cosmo's shutout bid lasted over 11 minutes, but Garret McIntosh got Calgary on the board on a quick transition strike. Buffalo and Calgary traded goals from Dhane Smith and Karsen Leung, respectively, to end a high-flying first quarter at 5-2.
Mitch Wilde extended the Bandits' lead to four at the 12:20 mark of the second quarter on a great drive to the net. After Dane Dobbie picked up his first goal for Calgary, Mark Steenhuis got on the board to reestablish Buffalo's advantage.
After the Bandits had established a 7-4 lead, Calgary started to slowly take control of the game. With two goals from Evans and one from Greg Harnett, Calgary was able to start putting some shots in the back of the net before halftime. Jay Thorimbert and Resetarits scored for the Bandits, who took a 9-6 lead into halftime.
The third quarter saw each team score three goals, but the most noteworthy was another milestone for the ageless Bandits captain. Tavares' goal with 1:11 to play in the third quarter was the 800th of his NLL career. But as has been the response time and time again, Tavares acknowledges the milestone and looks forward with his team.
"They're just nice to get out of the way," Tavares said. "Every time I get a milestone coming up, it always takes forever so it was nice to get the pressure off. It seems they always happen in a loss too."
The fourth quarter was a very different story, dominated in large part by the Roughnecks' offense. Curtis Dickson opened the barrage at the 2:44 mark, and then Curtis Manning and Dobbie scored 19 seconds apart to tie the game with 10:21 to play.
While the Bandits attempted to regroup, Calgary kept the pressure on and seized control of the game. With goals from Dickson, Geoff Snider, and Dobbie occurring over a stretch of just 1:15, the Bandits fell behind and would not reclaim the lead.
Dhane Smith ended the Bandits' scoring drought that lasted 14 minutes and 15 seconds to bring the Bandits back to within two, but Calgary's John Harnett added an empty-net goal to secure the victory and a home playoff game for the Roughnecks.
With the Rochester Knighthawks defeating the Minnesota Swarm Friday night, the Bandits clinched a postseason berth after missing out on the playoffs last season. The Bandits certainly corrected a number of mistakes from their winless road trip of the past two weeks, but there is still plenty for Cordingley and this team to do before the postseason rolls around.
"We just gotta get back to sticking to the gameplan for 60 minutes," he said. "We've gotta get back to everyone being held accountable. We've gotta get back to the hunger from training camp; guys were scared and didn't know if they were going to make the team or not. They battled, and they continued this other than the [Philadelphia] game, but they continued. Then all of a sudden, after our game against Colorado we've just basically mailed it in for the last few games.
"You've just gotta work out of it and you have to do the things that have made you successful, and the ball will eventually bounce our way."
With the Bandits now in the midst of an untimely four-game losing streak, the team is now staring down three more road games before their home finale. Buffalo's next game is Apr. 12 against the Minnesota Swarm. The following weekend, the Bandits have games on consecutive days, as a contest on Apr. 18 in Toronto against the Rock will be followed up by a game the next night at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester against the Knighthawks.
The Bandits' regular season home finale will again feature the Knighthawks as the opponent. That game will be played on Apr. 26 with the faceoff at 7:30 p.m.