by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The Buffalo Bandits went through a severe emotional swing in the final minutes of their game with the Vancouver Stealth on Saturday night.
The Bandits, who hadn’t led since the second quarter, fought back to tie the game on a goal by Mitch Jones with only 22 seconds left in regulation. The 12,610 in the KeyBank Center erupted with the loudest roar of the season. Surely, it seemed, Buffalo would carry that momentum into overtime and earn a victory.
Surely not. Joel McCready got the game-winning goal at 2:12 of overtime to give the Stealth the 11-10 win.
“It happened quick,” Jones said about the abrupt shift in moods. “The home crowd really got us back in the game. It’s a cliché, but it’s a game of inches.”
The Bandits have had a surprising amount of trouble historically with home games in overtime lately. They haven’t won one since 2011, going 0-4 in that span.
But you wouldn’t have thought this game would have needed an extra period, based on what happened in the early going. Buffalo dominated the first 20 minutes or so, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Considering that Vancouver hadn’t won a game this season, and suffered a humiliating loss last week to Toronto, a Stealth revival seemed unlikely.
But Vancouver got a spark with a couple of power-play goals that put it back in the game, and the Bandits had their hands full the rest of the way.
“Obviously, we’d talked all week that this team would be hungry,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “They were fighting for their dignity. They came and played really well. I saw their four games this year prior to this one, and had something to prove.
“They’ve got some lethal shooters on the team. When it’s a four-or-five or a three-on-five, they are not going to not score. Our lack of discipline cost us. They were 3 for 4 on the power play and we were 2 for 6, so they beat us in the special teams.”
The Stealth got big games from Corey Small, who had a natural hat trick within the span of 2:05, and Logan Schuss. They combined for 16 points. At the other end, Eric Penney stopped 52 of 62 shots to keep Vancouver close. He probably deserves some credit for his work in those first 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Buffalo’s best offensive threats were held relatively in check. Dhane Smith had two goals and Callum Crawford had a goal and an assist before eight minutes of the game had gone by. Yet, they only picked up two points each the rest of the way.
The one unexpected bright spot for the Bandits was Vaughn Harris, who played his first game as a Bandit and scored two goals. Vaughn brought his whole family here, including brother and ex-Bandit Roger Vyse.
“It felt amazing,” Harris said about his Buffalo debut. “I watched my brother play here, and I kicked it up a notch. I always wanted to be a Bandit.
“My goals were a team effort. It was unreal. I just got goose bumps with the atmosphere here.”
Silver linings are nice, but coaches tend to think of the colors of a game as black and white. The ultimate result made this an unacceptable result for Cordingley.
“We’ve got to have a 100-percent buy-in from everybody,” he said. “We can’t have guys not giving a full effort. We found a way to get it to even, but we couldn’t finish it.”
And now comes the tough part. Buffalo’s next three games are on the road, with stops in Saskatchewan, Rochester and New England. The Bandits are an ugly 0-2 away from home so far and they need to turn that around by the time they return home for a game on Feb. 10 against Georgia.
“If we want to be a good team, we have to go on the road and beat good teams,” Jones said.