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  • Budd Bailey

Bandits can't dig out from storm

By Budd Bailey

Let’s put the Buffalo Bandits’ loss to the New York Riptide in relatable terms for their fans.

Imagine after a period of calm at the start of a week, you’re suddenly buried by an avalanche of snow that leaves you almost paralyzed. It’s a shock, but there’s only one thing to do: starting digging. So you dig and you dig and you dig and you dig. There are a few more flurries along the way that slow your progress, but the driveway and sidewalk eventually start to become clear. Finally, you’ve got everything down to pavement, and you’re ready to declare victory.

And right then, right there … a plow comes along and buries the apron of the driveway again. And you’re not going anywhere.

Sound familiar?

It was that sort of night for the Bandits, who dropped a 15-13 decision to the Riptide before an announced 14,440 (there certainly were some no-shows from the Southtowns who had better things to do) in the KeyBank Center. That early storm of goals proved too much to overcome.

“It’s tough to win a lacrosse game when you’re giving up 11 in the first half,” Buffalo coach John Tavares said.

The first clue that this wasn’t going to be the Bandits’ night came in the first quarter. Buffalo had a 17-6 edge in shots on goal, but the game was tied 3-3 after 15 minutes.

Then the onslaught arrived. The Riptide scored seven straight goals over the course of seven minutes and nine seconds. That’s in the top ten list of most consecutive goals allowed by a Bandits team since 2005. All at once, Buffalo had gone from a tie game to a 10-3 deficit faster than you could say lake effect.

“It’s hard to come back from that,” Chase Fraser said. “You have to be able to stop the runs, and we were unable to do that.”

“We had opportunities to score in the first half, and we didn’t capitalize,” Tavares said. “It seemed like everything they shot was going in.”

Tavares even took goalie Matt Vinc out of the game for a while. Reserve Steve Orleman saw four minutes of work in his first game on the field as a Bandit. Then Vinc trotted back in after a rest. Buffalo showed a little life the rest of the way, but still trailed by 11-6 after 30 minutes.

"(I said at halftime) I believed in them, there was lots of time, and stick to the gameplan,” Tavares said.  “Just cut the lead to two or three at the end of the third quarter to give us a chance.”

In the second half, the Bandits crawled back. They’d score two goals, and the Riptide scored one. New York had a 13-10 lead with 12 minutes to go, but it still didn’t seem insurmountable. Vinc had returned to his usual all-star form in the second half, stopping everything in sight. Along the way he picked up his 10,000th save – a very nice, round number that’s unmatched in league history.

“It’s taking one step at a time – that next shift, that next step, that next goal,” Fraser said. “You have to take the lead down.”

Sure enough, Buffalo scored the next three goals to get the game to level at 13-13 with 2:09 left. Everyone in the building probably felt the Bandits would ride the momentum to victory at that point. However, no one told Jeff Teat. The superstar of the Riptide put his team back in the lead only 22 seconds after Chase Fraser’s tying goal, and an empty-netter finished the job.

“It is tough, Smith said. “We went on the run we were supposed to. … Looking back, we need to be better.”

Teat finished the night with four goals and six assists – rather typical for him – while teammate Reily O’Connor wasn’t far behind with eight points. Fraser had four goals, while Smith and Josh Byrne added seven points each. Smith passed Mark Steenhuis to take second place on the Bandits’ all-time scoring list, behind only Tavares.

“I probably won’t play him as much now,” Tavares joked. “No, Dhane is a great player. Very coachable. He’s changed his game over the years. He’s an inside threat, an outside threat, a great feeder.”  

The loss for Buffalo was particularly disappointing since it was on “Tucker Out Lymphoma Night.” That is an annual event to salute Tucker Williams, the son of former Bandit Shawn, who died almost 10 years ago.

“It’s definitely an emotional game,” Smith said. “It’s one of those games that you check off at the beginning of the season. I try to donate to the best of my ability to a great cause. Shawn and the rest of his family mean so much to me. … I was hoping for a better outcome because that game meant a lot to our team.”

The game finished the first third of the season for the Bandits, who are 3-3 so far. They have had some good moments in the segment, and came close to stealing a win to move to 4-2. As it is, Buffalo is in the middle of the pack in the National Lacrosse League. That’s a step down for a team that is the league’s defending champion.

“We’re not far off, but teams are coming in to knock us off,” Tavares said. “They’re coming in, playing in front of 15,000 people, and everybody seems to be at their best to play against us. We have to accept the challenge. We can’t just show up and win. It takes a whole 60-minute game.”

“I feel like it’s all year been like we’ve been on a roller-coaster,” Smith said. “We do well, we don’t. We’re digging a hole right off the hop. We’re getting up for the tougher teams, but when it comes to other teams we think we can get by them by just showing up. Every team in this league is good, and tonight shows that.”

More to the point, they are looking up at the Toronto Rock, one of the two undefeated teams in the NLL this season with a 4-0 record. (The Rock plays at home Saturday night against Georgia.) If the Bandits want to show that they have a habit of playing their best lacrosse against good teams, next week’s game with Toronto on the road would be a good time to show it – weather permitting, of course.

“It’s just a little adversity, right?” Fraser said. “It brings us closer together. It’s that dogfight in you. We’ll have to come out hot in the next two-thirds of the season.”

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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