By Budd Bailey
You may have had a good day on Saturday, but Josh Byrne had a better one.
He scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lead the Buffalo Bandits to an 11-10 win over the New York Riptide before 16,051 in the KeyBank Center … on his birthday … shortly after he announced his engagement.
There’s no word about whether he bought a 50-50 ticket before the game. But maybe he had enough excitement without it. Byrne finished the game with three goals, even though he had been blanked for the first 51 minutes.
“At one point, he (Byrne) was struggling to score early, and he said, ‘Am I shooting too much?’” forward Dhane Smith said. “I said, ‘Keep shooting.’ He’s one of our best players, and our best goal-scorer. He would do the same thing for me if I were struggling. You have to believe in each other. That’s a pretty good birthday.”
Josh Byrne scores in overtime … on his birthday… after his engagement … to give the Bandits a 11 to 10 win over New York. Wow. pic.twitter.com/hagzNPzrtq
— Budd Bailey (@WDX2BB) April 16, 2023
The winning goal came 3:03 into overtime, proving that leads are overrated in sports. The Bandits never led in the game until Byrne’s goal ended it.
“They haven’t been pretty, the wins that have come in the last little while,” said Kyle Buchanan, who had a hat trick. “Again, we found a way. Guys stepped up when they had to, and it was nice for the birthday boy to finish it off there.”
What’s more, the score came in what might have been the biggest game of the season to date. The Bandits improved to 12-4 on the season, still a half-game behind Toronto in the East Division standings. The victory meant Buffalo will be playing a home game to start the playoffs on May 6.
More importantly, though, the win was needy just to give Buffalo a lift. The Bandits had been humiliated in their last game, which came two weeks ago against Toronto in Hamilton, Ontario. The Rock scored the first seven goals and went on to an 18-7 romp. Amateur psychologists figured out that a loss to the relatively lowly Riptide (now 4-12) might have sent the Bandits in a downward spiral.
Even so, it wasn’t a particularly impressive performance by the Bandits. Offensive has been a problem as of late for Buffalo. Entering the game, the team hadn’t scored as many as 11 goals in its last five games. Compare that to the fact that the Bandits had reached 11 goals in their previous 11 games. Injuries have been part of the problem, as the team is missing some big bodies (Tehoka Nanticoke and Brandon Robinson) up front who were opening shooting lanes with crushing picks.
“I think with lineup changes, some guys think they have to change what they do,” Buchanan said. “Inserting guys in the lineup, they might feel they have to change. The game of lacrosse doesn’t change much. When we got back to basics, you could feel the energy return.”
Buffalo didn’t look overly sharp this time either, although winning does help.
“Putting the ball in the net solves a lot of problems,” coach John Tavares said. “You look at the shots on the net over the last six games. Right now the guys are holding the sticks tight. I have confidence that eventually the ball will start going in. We had the chances tonight.”
That allowed the Riptide to hang around in a back-and-forth contest. New York scored to take the lead five times during the game, only to see Buffalo respond five times to re-tie it.
“Credit New York for playing a great game,” Tavares said. “Their goalie (Cameron Dunkerley) had a hell of a game, and our goalie (Matt Vinc) did too.”
As usual, Jeff Teat of the Riptide was the center of attention for that squad. The league’s leading scorer had two goals to run his total to 51 for the season, and No. 50 was a beauty – a quick spin-and-shoot move that came in spite of a double-team on defense.
“He’s a great player, and those great players are going to get theirs,” Smith said. “We have to understand that, and I think we did. We made an adjustment on him. He started off hot, and we slowed him down a little bit. That’s what you have to do.”
Teat finished with 21 shots for the game, which tied the Bandits’ all-time record for most shots by an opposing player (Rob Hellyer, Toronto, 2022). But Teat was generally kept under a bit of control, which was important in keeping the Bandits within striking distance.
Still, Buffalo’s hopes of returning to its winning ways seemed small when New York led by two goals at 10-8 with less than seven minutes to go. But Byrne got one back with about a minute left, and Smith tied the game with only 29 seconds. Smith, by the way, either scored or assisted on every Buffalo goal for the night (3-8=11).
That set up overtime, which featured a couple of possessions by both teams before Byrne completed his day to remember. The goal lifted the Bandits’ overtime record to 4-0 on the season. Buffalo’s situation in the playoff race would look much different if was even 2-2 in extra time.
As an added bonus, it all came on “Tucker Out Lymphoma Night,” as the Bandits saluted the memory of the late son of Shawn Williams, a former Bandits’ player and now the coach in Las Vegas. Williams flew in for the game after watching his own team play on Friday night.
It was a night that had some extra meaning for Smith, one of the few Bandits left who played on the same team as Williams.
“It’s crazy to think that it (Tucker Williams’ death) was 10 years ago,” he said. “When I heard about it when I was younger, I didn’t really understand it. I feel like it was new to me. The more I grow up, I understand it more. It’s never easy. But any time you can play for a great cause and put on that jersey, it means a lot more. I wish we could wear those jerseys every night.”
If you’ve been waiting for an anticipated game to come see the Bandits in person, next Saturday will qualify. The winner of the game will win the East, regardless of what Buffalo does in its last game of the season the following week in Albany. (The Bandits would have the tiebreaker over Toronto with a win next week.)
“It’s a big game for both teams,” Tavares said. “I’m sure they’re coming with a lot of confidence, and we’re trying to get our confidence back. First place is important for us, and important to our fans.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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