By Budd Bailey
The Buffalo Bandits received quite a grilling during a postgame news conference after Saturday night’s 17-5 win over the Philadelphia Wings in the KeyBank Center.
They had to try to answer such difficult questions from the media as: “Any complaints?” “Can you play any better?” “Are you proud to be the first Bandits’ team in history to go 10-1 after 11 games in a season?”
To their credit, the three players and coach John Tavares who underwent such a withering interrogation didn’t seem to even break a sweat during the session. Maybe the lights will have to be turned up next time to change the atmosphere.
Seriously, it was an overwhelming performance in all phases of the game. And, no, there were no complaints coming out of the mouths of the Bandits.
“It’s a nice way to start the season,” Tavares said about the 10-1 start. “And we’re getting better, which is important for our record. We’re just trying to be in position to build ourselves up and make the championship and maybe win the championship?”
“(Assistant coach Steve Dietrich) said it before the game – I don’t think we’d played a full 60 (minutes) this year, but that’s as good as we can play,” goalie Matt Vinc said. “We really came out and fired on all cylinders.”
Want some numbers about Saturday night? Dhane Smith had two goals and 10 assists for 12 points. He missed setting career highs in a game in assists and points by one in each case. Smith has taken over the league lead with 82 points.
Tehoka Nanticoke chipped in with five goals and an assist for six points. That’s a career high in goals and ties his career high in points. Chase Fraser had three goals while Josh Byrne had a goal and eight assists.
What’s more, some of the goals were simply spectacular – worth a double-take and check of the video scoreboard.
“We’ll be watching the offensive set, and the ball will go from here to there back to here and into the net,” Fraser said. “Everyone just says, ‘Did that really happen?’ It surprises us too. It comes down to us knowing each other so well.”
Seventeen goals are a lot of goals. The team fell one short of beating its season high this year, an 18-17 win over New York (but that one was in overtime). They last won a game by 12 goals or more on March 23, 2018 in New England, when they knocked off the Black Wolves by a 20-7 count.
“Everyone’s a threat, and that’s what makes it fun,” Tavares said. “Most teams have one or two guys. It’s easy to stop one or two. It’s tough to stop five.”
How about the defense? Five goals against in a single game is a season best for Buffalo. The Bandits last gave up five on January 27, 2019 against New England, and four against Rochester on January 5, 2019.
Then there’s Vinc. He stopped 50 of 55 shots for a save percentage of .909. That number is the second-best in a Bandits game since 2005, which is how far back the records go.
“The defense, that was one of their best games,” Tavares said. “That’s a really potent offense. They have a lot of offense threats. And when they did get a chance, Matty was incredible.”
If you can believe it, Philadelphia actually led in this game once. The Wings scored the game’s first goal at the 8:14 mark of the first period. So the Bandits trailed for all of 67 seconds. Fraser tied it up at that point, and Smith put Buffalo ahead exactly four minutes later. The scores were 2-1 after a period, 6-2 at the half, and 11-3 after three quarters.
The Wings scored a couple of early goals in the fourth quarter, which seemed to annoy the Bandits. They scored the final six goals of the game. Philadelphia’s defense had a meltdown along the way. Backup goalie Angus Goodleaf, an ex-Bandit, played the final 8 minutes and 10 seconds of the game. He allowed four goals on five shots, and deserves a few sympathy cards for facing such an onslaught.
“I’ve been a teammate of both of those guys (the Philadelphia goalies) – great goalie partners with both of them,” Vinc said. “Both are friends. That’s the way lacrosse is sometimes. We had some seeing-eye shots. I’m just fortunate to be on the other side tonight.”
The Bandits are now two games clear of Halifax in the East Division standings. Tavares’ biggest task these days is to not get in the way of a team that is playing so well.
“You don’t change what’s not broken,” he said. “We had a good rhythm and were getting good opportunities. I did throw in a couple of plays, and they worked as well. Everything was happening. There are nights where nothing is working … but today everything was clicking.”
Buffalo has a week off, and it may need it. The Bandits return to action on March 26 for a Saturday afternoon game with the Thunderbirds. The teams will play the next day in Halifax. Buffalo has two more games the following weekend, so it’s going to be difficult.
But the Bandits have plenty of incentive to keep it going. They have a chance to put the rest of the league in the deep in the rear-view mirror.
“The bye week is going to be nice so we can re-set, but that Halifax is a huge rival for us,” Smith said. “They’re a great team. They struggled this weekend. I know it will be a challenge, but it’s nice that they’ll be on the back end of it. They’ll have no excuses, and we’re looking forward to it.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)