By Budd Bailey
This was supposed to be a heck of a party.
The Buffalo Bandits were going to beat the relatively lowly New York Riptide on Saturday night to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Along the way, Dhane Smith would break the league record for assists in a season. And it all would be seen by ESPN2 audiences across the country, as well as the announced attendance of 12,436 in the KeyBank Center.
Therefore, the Riptide became the party-pooper for the night, as they gave the Bandits their worst loss of the season. The final score was a deceptive 15-12, although it was 13-5 late in the third period.
It was only New York’s fifth win of the season against 10 losses, while Buffalo fell to 13-3. The loss was as discouraging for the Bandits as it was unexpected.
“I don’t think we showed up for this game,” coach John Tavares said. “They played very well.”
“We came out flat,” Smith said. “We thought they’d just give it to us. Every team in this league is a great team. We had just a terrible first half.”
The Bandits were swimming upstream for most of the late afternoon/early evening. New York opened the scoring at 1:51 of the first period, and added another score a little more than two minutes later. Chase Fraser put Buffalo on the scoreboard, but that was only a pause before the deluge.
The Riptide scored the final four goals of the first period to go up, 6-1, after 15 minutes. But the run wasn’t done at that point. New York scored three more goals to open the second period to make the score 9-1 after 24 minutes of play. It was all simply shocking. The halftime score was 10-3, and it was richly deserved from the Bandits point of view. The offense wasn’t clicking, and the defense gave up too many good chances.
“Sometimes that happens for a shift or two, but it went on for the first 30 minutes of the game,” Tavares said. “Nothing seemed to work for us. We had unforced errors, missing the net, not burying our chances.”
Buffalo knew at that point that it would have to stage an historic comeback, but the New York generally didn’t cooperate. The Riptide came up with enough scores in the third period to prevent any runs. New York built the margin to 15-8 with nine minutes left.
The Bandits tried to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, and they did score four goals in a row to make it a little interesting. Buffalo also had a steady stream of players head for the penalty box down the stretch, limiting their chances. The power plays wound up 2 for 9 for New York (with two missed penalty shots) and 1 for 1 for the Bandits. That might have been frustration in action, or it might have been one-sided officiating for whatever reason. Smith discounted the role of officials in the loss.
“It’s on us,” Smith said. “We battled back, but we took a lot of stupid penalties. It was a tough game to be a part of. … We have to stay out of the box.”
No matter what the cause, the Bandits certainly dug their own grave in this game. They really had to look at the mirror over the start to find the major problem of the game.
“We weren’t shooting or catching the ball,” Smith said. “By the time we picked it up, it was too late.”
There was one other bit of bad news. Justin Robinson was injured on a non-contact play early in the contest. The Bandits’ defender appeared to suffer a lower-body injury, and was seen to be on crutches after the game. Tavares had not heard a preliminary diagnosis immediately after the game.
At least Smith reached his target. He finished with one goal and seven assists for eight points, and that brought him to 86 assists on the season. That broke the old NLL record of 84, set by Mark Matthews. No one likes to break a record in a loss, naturally, and Smith was no exception.
“Everybody’s talking about records, but at the end of the day I just want to win championships,” he said. “The record will stand for a while, but I don’t really care about that. I want to bring a championship to Buffalo.”
On the other side, rookie Jeff Teat put on quite a show for the Riptide. He had six goals – sometimes called a “sock trick” in indoor lacrosse – and four assists for 10 points. Teat, whose father Dan played and coached for the Bandits, certainly looked like a top candidate for rookie of the year … if not more.
“He’s as good as it gets, no matter what year he’s in,” Tavares said. “He’s one of the best players out there. He’s very crafty and very intelligent. He knows how to create space and time for himself. He knows where to shoot the ball; he knows all of his angles. He’s a triple threat – outside, inside, and a feeder.”
Meanwhile, Larson Sundown had a happy homecoming for the Riptide. The former star at Akron High School had a goal and three assists. His family has season tickets to the Bandits, although their affection switched sides from the norm for the night.
The Bandits now have their first losing streak in a row, having lost last weekend in Colorado. They still are in good shape in the standings, but would like to regain their previous winning ways. The next chance for that comes on Saturday, April 16 at Georgia.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)