By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Dan Lintner never thought he’d be playing for the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night.
The former Rochester Knighthawks forward came over in a midweek deal, and he played a key role in in Buffalo’s 13-9 win over Halifax before 12,813 in the KeyBank Center.
“It was a pretty crazy week to be honest,” Lintner said. “I was sitting at my desk when I got the call I was traded here. I didn’t think about it too much at first, but then it sunk in. It was something I had to take on.
“This is a great place to play. Everyone in the room welcomed me with open arms tonight.”
Lintner and Frank Brown, the other part of the deal from a Buffalo standpoint, made their debuts after the transaction. Lintner was the biggest part of the transaction, simply because the Bandits’ offense needed a boost. The team had scored a total of 15 goals in its last two games, both losses, and it was going to be missing star forward Dhane Smith for somewhere in the vicinity of six weeks because of a hand injury.
“Dhane is just an amazing player,” teammate Josh Byrne said. “When he’s on the floor, he always takes two guys with him. It makes it easier for the rest of us to go one on one against a defender.”
The idea was for everyone to try to do a little bit more with Smith out of the lineup for a while. That included Byrne, who realized he was trying too hard in the previous couple of games.
“The last couple of games, we haven’t been playing the way we want to,” he said. “We haven’t been moving our feet. We knew if we came out and focused on sharing the ball, and doing the right things, we’d have success. So we were happy with that.
“In the Philly game, I took a lot on myself to take a load, and I was doing it in the wrong ways. I watched the film and tried to figure it out. I tried to do too much. There are so many good players on our offense, there’s no need for me to do that.”
As for Lintner, his job was to plow the road for his teammates and help create opportunities. That’s the job that was often filled last season by Jordan Durston, who was lost in the expansion draft, and that’s the job Lintner focused on during Saturday’s debut with Buffalo.
“I was impressed,” coach John Tavares said. “That’s why we traded for him. He helped his teammates get open.”
Just about everything was clicking for the Bandits in the early going. Buffalo jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first minute of the second period. Statistics only go back to 2005, but it’s the first time the Bandits have ever scored the first six goals of a game.
The Thunderbirds finally got on the scoreboard in the second quarter, but still trailed by a score of 8-2 after 30 minutes. As you might expect, the team was good at both ends of the field during the first half. The defense has been a constant throughout the season, perhaps in part because much of the unit from last season has returned.
“We’ve been together for the most part, minus a couple of games where we were missing Steve Priolo and Nick Weiss,” goalie Matt Vinc said. “It’s been great to get those guys back in the lineup. They are big in a lot of different situations. Every game we’re feeling a little more confident, a little more like we are adhering to our principles. I think that’s a big plus for us. (The coaches) have done a great job establishing a similar type of defense to what we had last year that allowed us to be successful.”
No one on the Buffalo side expected Halifax to roll over play dead in the second half. After all, this was a Thunderbirds team that earlier in the season trailed Saskatchewan, 12-3, with 20 minutes to go – and forced overtime. Halifax did score six out of seven goals during one stretch to get the lead down to 10-8 with about 10 minutes left.
But Corey Small got a huge goal to reverse the momentum, and then Lintner went to work. He had a pair of goals within 92 seconds to put Buffalo up, 13-8, and that was that.
“There’s an adjustment with any new team, but lacrosse is lacrosse,” Lintner said. “You’ve got to get comfortable with the guys in there. Everyone is so talented, so it made it simple to jump in there and help a little bit. It took me a little bit, but it was great to be involved.”
“What a way to make his mark with his team,” Vinc said about his new teammate.
Byrne finished the night with four goals and three assists. Small had a goal and five assists, and Chase Fraser had a hat trick. At the other end, Vinc stopped 52 of 61 shots.
It was a good way for the Bandits to start to second half of the season, and not just because it ended a two-game losing streak. The victory evened the season series with Halifax. Both teams are now 7-3. Buffalo plays in Halifax next Sunday afternoon, and the winner of that game will have the tiebreaker between the teams in the standings at the end of the season. That could be crucial if the race stays close.
“Every game is tough, especially in our division. They’re a tough team,” Vinc said. “Anytime you get a win in the division, it’s huge. … Winning without Dhane Smith, one of our best players, does a lot for us.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)