By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
This time, Alex Buque finished what he started.
So did the rest of the Buffalo Bandits.
After giving up at least 20 goals in their last two games (both losses), the Bandits rebounded to hold the Calgary Roughnecks to a mere eight goals on Saturday night. That was nicely countered by a balanced Buffalo offense, as the team combined to take a 13-8 victory. The win came before 11,803 at the KeyBank Center.
It was a particularly big and important night for Buque. The goaltender – who was acquired from Colorado in the offseason – had been pulled in his last two starts. He took the highest goals-against average of any regular netminder in the National Lacrosse League entering the game. Buque’s rebound was crucial.
“I just needed a little bit of time,” he said. “The last two games didn’t go as planned. But it’s all about adapting and bouncing back. If it isn’t for the team putting the goals in and playing hard in front of me, it doesn’t happen.”
“We as a team know what he can do,” added coach Troy Cordingly. “He’s a huge competitor.”
The Bandits never trailed on this chilly night, and one of the reasons why is that the Calgary offense never got going at full throttle. Curtis Dickson got his goals for the Roughnecks – four in all – as he showed why he’s always a very dangerous player. But Calgary’s offense for the most part never seemed too threatening.
“Our goal was to have the 19 guys that dressed give an honest effort, and play hard for each other. That’s what we did,” Cordingley said. “We won a lot of battles, the small battles. … Our defense was spectacular tonight. Dickson might be the best right-hander in the game, and we did a good job on him.”
The offense turned in a good all-around performance as well. Everyone was contributing on this night, which naturally makes the team tough to defend.
“It doesn’t matter who does the scoring,” Callum Crawford said. “I got four goals, but all the players were doing the things we needed to do. It was such a team effort. Some of them may not have had many points on the scoreboard, but they were part of it.”
A potential turning point in the game turned out to be a wash on the scoreboard for the Bandits, and that was just what the team needed. In the second period, Crawford was called for an illegal body check, as he leveled Tyler Pace of the Roughnecks from behind. That earned him a five-minute penalty, and gave Calgary the chance to erase a 6-3 lead.
But Jordan Durston scored a short-handed goal during that Roughneck power play. Even though Dane Dobbie got the goal back for Calgary a handful of seconds later, the Bandits came out of that stretch with the same three-goal lead.
“That was a huge kill,” Durston said. “Those five-minute power plays are tough.”
LEADING THE WAY
Buffalo never trailed in this one, and led for good once it took a 2-1 lead within the first four minutes. Durston finished with three goals – in a row, no less – while Kevin Brownell and Dhane Smith had two each.
OK, it’s early January. There aren’t many big games at this time of the year in an 18-game season. Still, Buffalo was a loss away from a 1-3 start, which wouldn’t have helped a team that is trying to recover from last year’s last-place finish. Under those circumstances, 2-2 sounds pretty good.
“As coaches, you live and die with every game,” Cordingley said. “The Christmas holiday and New Year’s wasn’t a happy one in the Cordingley household. We battled and we earned this one.”
“The guys were frustrated the last two games, but no one threw in the towel,” Crawford said. “But if we don’t do it again next week, this won’t mean a thing.”
Buffalo will get the chance to go on a winning streak when Vancouver comes to town next Saturday night.