By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
It was only Game Three of an 18-game season, but the Buffalo Bandits knew this was no time to start a losing streak.
They had lost the first game in a four-game homestand last week to Toronto. Another loss to a rebuilding Vancouver squad wouldn’t have been helpful at all to a Buffalo team that missed the playoffs for the last two years.
“After losing the first game at home, we would have been in panic mode with another loss,” co-coach John Tavares of the Bandits said. “It was important to win this one.”
They did exactly that on Friday night, taking a comfortable 16-10 win over the Warriors before 12,005 at the KeyBank Center.
A Bandits’ outburst
What went right? Just about everything. Let’s start with the deciding run. The Bandits never trailed in the game, but they were tied, 3-3, with 11:21 in the first period. Buffalo simply dominated the next 18 minutes or so. The team went on a 9-1 run in the rest of the half to go up, 12-4, at intermission.
“We wanted to play at a faster pace,” Josh Byrne said. “In last week’s game, you saw us play a slower game. There weren’t as much cuts. It’s easy to play defense against guys who don’t who don’t move their feet. Then it’s a matter where you don’t care about who scores. The rest will come from there.”
The final offensive stats for the game reflected that. Byrne and Shawn Evans piled up some big numbers, getting 10 and 11 points respectively for the night. That was important with Dhane Smith still on the sidelines because of lower-body injuries. Even so, it was obvious that the two worked well together.
“We’re both trying to get used to each other,” Byrne said. “This was our first full training camp together, and it was a short one. We’re getting to know each other’s tendencies.”
What’s more, the two of them didn’t dominate the scoring. Zach Herreweyers joined the active roster earlier in the day and had two goals. Thomas Hoggarth had two goals and four assists. Rookie Ian MacKay had two goals.
In all, eight Bandits picked up goals on the night.
“That means everyone is contributing,” Tavares said. “When the offensive is predictable, it’s easy to defend. This way, you don’t know which of the five guys might get the ball.”
The defense was equally solid, as the unit easily played its best game of the season. The Warriors scored four of the game’s last five goals just to make the score respectable, but never came close to threatening.
“The defense collapsed well and got into position,” Tavares summarized. “And Vino (goalie Matt Vinc) really played well.”
A century of wins
The goalie was particularly good in the first half when it mattered, and he finished the night with 38 saves on 48 shots. As an added bonus, it was his 100th career win – a nice milestone.
“Looking back on it, there were a lot of family members and friends that were here for this, and that will make it special,” Vinc said. “But we have a limited time to celebrate.”
One other number jumped off the page at the end of the night. Chase Fraser won 15 of 22 faceoffs. The Bandits haven’t had many nights like that since Jay Thorimbert was on the team. It seemed that whenever Buffalo scored a goal, Fraser would win a draw and his team would come charging down the field again.
“Obviously, the faceoff guy has an underrated role,” Byrne said. “Fraser was out there battling all night, and had a great game. You don’t realize how tiring that job is, and they have to play defense and sometimes offense as well.”
The win put the Bandits in second place in the NLL East, a half-game behind 2-0 Georgia. There’s more work to do for Buffalo on this homestand this week. Rochester finally plays its first game of the schedule on Saturday night, and then comes to town on Jan. 5.
Vinc, who jumped from the Knighthawks to the Bandits in the offseason, will get until Jan. 5 to think about facing some familiar faces.
“It’s one of those things you have to do when you change teams,” he said. “I knew this day would come. I’ll have some great friends on the floor for that one.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)
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