By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The home opener in any professional sports season is a time for optimism. After all, it’s the first chance for a team to make an impression on its fans in person, and offers a chance to write on a mostly clean sheet of paper about the days to come.
That particularly applied to the Buffalo Bandits on Friday night. The Bandits had done a lot of rebuilding in the offseason after a disappointing 2017-18, and they got off to a good start this time with a win in Philadelphia last week.
But a new week offers a new challenge, and the Bandits didn’t offer a great deal of excitement in Week Two. They went down rather meekly in a 17-12 loss to the Toronto Rock in the KeyBank Center.
“I’ve been around the league for a long time,” co-coach Rich Kilgour said. “Stuff happens, and hopefully this is just a one-off. That was pretty disappointing.”
Super start, then a long stop
Indoor lacrosse is a game that features all sorts of curiosities when it comes to scoring goals. Teams can look unstoppable for a while, only to see the faucet turned off for an even longer period of time.
Such was the case for Buffalo on this night. The Bandits couldn’t have asked for a better start. They had a 4-1 lead in the first four minutes of play, and they had a 10-1 edge in shots. Toronto was barely putting up any resistance.
Everything changed after that.
“We had a great start, and that’s all it was,” Shawn Evans said. “We came out hot in the home building, but that’s all we did. We fell apart.”
They didn’t know it at the time, but the Bandits’ problems started to appear right after that. The Rock was called for three penalties during the rest of the first period. That should have been the time to build a huge lead. Instead, Buffalo’s one power-play goal was countered by a short-handed goal by Toronto. The Bandits still led by three at that point, but it felt more like a contest.
“I guess we could have ended the game after the first quarter,” Kilgour said. “Unfortunately, there were three more quarters. We just went downhill from there.”
It didn’t take long for the lead to go away. The Rock scored two goals in the first four minutes of the second period to get within one. Then Matt Gilray picked up a five-minute major for boarding, and Toronto capitalized with two more goals. The Rock took the lead with 5:26 gone in the period, and it never looked back.
For the record, Toronto had four power-play goals on four opportunities – if you count the two goals on the major penalty as separate chances.
“Our man-down (play) was horrendous,” Steve Priolo said. “We used a diamond, we went into a box, and we still couldn’t stop a thing.”
The Rock went up by 9-7 at halftime, and the Bandits never really got much going after that. Buffalo got within a goal in the third period, but gave up two goals after that to fall behind again. In the fourth quarter, Buffalo was within two with nine minutes left when the Rock ran off three straight goals. At 15-10, it was time for the fans to think about when to leave for home.
“There were a couple of deflating goals,” Priolo said. “When we were starting to get the momentum back, they would pot another one. That’s going to be discussed among us. A transition goal would have gone a long way.”
Evans (goal and six assists) and Josh Byrne (four goals and three assists) finished as Buffalo’s top scorers. New Bandit Matt Vinc was pulled after less than three quarters after allowing 11 goals on 38 shots. He didn’t have much help in front of him at times, although it’s fair to say that Nick Rose was the best goalie on the floor on this night.
Dhane Smith missed the game with some minor physical problems. He should be back in the lineup soon.
Not too many people saw this loss in person. The crowd of 10,370 was one of the lowest in recent memory. The last time the Bandits drew under 10,000 was in 2005. There were lots of reasons for that. Games on December haven’t drawn as well as ones later in the season. Friday nights attracted smaller numbers than the traditional Saturdays. Buffalo only had a few weeks to promote the home opener due to the labor issue that delayed the start of the season. Finally, the Bandits certainly will pay a price at the box office for a while for missing the playoffs for the past two years.
Luckily for the team, it’s only one game. The next one comes next Friday night against Vancouver. It represents a chance for some early redemption for this Bandit team.
“As good as we are on paper, you have to prove that every night,” Priolo said.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)