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  • Budd Bailey

Bandits change course in win over Rochester

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

By Budd Bailey

It was quite easy to figure out the cliched “turning point” of the Buffalo Bandits’ 13-10 win over the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday night in the KeyBank Center.

The Bandits had given up five goals in six minutes to fall behind by a score of 5-1 – taking the game’s first four penalties in the process. What’s more, the Knighthawks had challenged a no-goal call on a play around the middle of the second quarter, and a replay cleared showed the ball had entered the net. A five-goal deficit is a very big one, even in the NLL where runs are relatively common.

But the officials couldn’t tell if a Rochester entered the crease before the goal entered the net. They judged the replay inconclusive, and kept the goal off the scoreboard. Suitably inspired, Dhane Smith scored for the Bandits only a few seconds after play had resumed. Instead of trailing by a score of 6-1, the game was 5-2.

“We had some turnovers, some stupid penalties – nothing was really clicking for us,” coach John Tavares said. “We got a goal after that (review). It was nice to get some momentum after that going into the half.”

“That’s lacrosse – they are going to go on their runs, and we are going to go on ours,” Smith added. “I think the main thing when you look in the mirror is staying off the refs and staying out of the penalty box. We’re one of the top teams, and refs don’t like to make it easy for us. I think if we stay out of the box, we’ll be fine.”

Suitably inspired, two more Buffalo goals made it a 5-4 game at halftime. And the Bandits came out with a rush to start the second half, scoring three more goals to make it six in a row and a 7-5 lead. It was 11-6 after 45 minutes, and the outcome was more or less determined.

That added up to 10 goals in about 20 minutes of play. Not surprisingly, Smith was right in the middle of all of that. He had three goals and four assists in that stretch alone, and he went on to finish with four goals and six assists for 10 points overall. It’s always handy to have the league’s Most Valuable Player around when things weren’t going well.

“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself early in the first quarter,” Smith said. “I just told myself to play lacrosse. I wasn’t being aggressive. I was looking for my teammates, but there’s a point where I need to step up and put the ball in the net. I was able to do that, but this was a team effort.”

The biggest subplot of the game centered on the fact that the Bandits were without Josh Byrne. He had been injured last weekend in New York, and wasn’t ready to return yet. Byrne is the league’s leading goal-scorer, and that sort of talent is irreplaceable. Buffalo figured out a way to compensate for his loss by allowing the offense to improvise as it went along.

“We went away from structure, and we gave the guys a little more reign to decide what they wanted to do,” Tavares said. “It was kind of an organized mess, if you will. We went through some fundamentals of lacrosse. It’s hard to get the timing. We don’t practice much.”

Brad McCulley was an obvious beneficiary of the altered attack. He had two goals and three assists for five points; the former first-round draft choice (2020) set career-highs in goals and points in a game.

“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, actually,” McCulley said. “It’s been getting a little tough. Obviously we have such a great offense, you want to play the way you want to play but sometimes it doesn’t happen. I’m happy to be a role guy, gets guys open and score when I can. Tonight I felt I was helping the team right now.”

Dalton Sulver chipped in with two goals, and Tehoka Nanticoke, Ian MacKay, Steve Priolo, Brandon Robinson, and Bryce Sweeting all had a goal each. That was definitely the proper recipe for winning with Byrne out of the lineup.

Rochester was led by Connor Fields and Ryan Smith, who had three goals each.

The victory had a few benefits for the Bandits. They moved to 7-2 at the midpoint of the season, and for the moment have the lead in the division. Rochester and Toronto are both a half-game back at 6-2. By beating the Knighthawks, Buffalo evened the first tiebreaker at a win a piece head to head if those teams finished in a tie at the end of the regular season.

“I’m not going to say I’m unhappy, but I’m disappointed we lost a couple of games,” Tavares said about the first half. “I think 7-2 is a good spot to be in. We’re trying to fight for position for a playoff spot.”

Buffalo will get to see what happened with its competition next week, as it has an off week. With the Bandits on a three-game winning streak, Tavares is a little sad about a week of rest when the team is playing so well – even if there is an possible benefit to it.

“I don’t like the bye week,” he said. “This isn’t like football. The guys can play two or three games a week easily. I like to compare it to hockey and basketball. So we have to play one game in two weeks, and that takes away the chemistry, the flow, the rhythm. It’s nice for Josh, who can rest for two extra weeks. Not sure if he’ll be ready for the next game.”

Buffalo will host Philadelphia on February 18 in its only other game during the current month.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

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