By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
A single game sure can make a big difference in the outlook of a professional sports team.
Entering Saturday night’s contest, the Buffalo Bandits had seemed to have turned a corner. After a slow start, they had ripped off four straight wins and vaulted to the lead of the National Lacrosse League East Division.
But Rochester’s play on Saturday sent them back where they came from in a game that brought back memories of Buffalo’s sluggish start. The Knighthawks pounded the Bandits, 17-10, before 15,302 at the KeyBank Center – some of whom left before Buffalo scored the game’s last three goals to make the score a tiny bit more respectable.
“I’m totally disappointed,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “We got outplayed in a lot of areas. We got our (butts) handed to us.
“Some of us have been reading our press clippings on how we had become a good team. In every area we were beaten – offensive, defense, loose balls.”
THE GOALS KEPT COMING
It was a strange evening for Buffalo in a number of ways. Let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start in this case. The two teams took their time getting on the scoreboard, as no one could put the ball in the net for more than seven minutes.
“In the first seven, eight minutes, our defense was real good,” Cordingley said. “We were putting pressure on them. Then one got past us, and we forgot the gameplan. We weren’t trusting each other.”
The Knighthawks scored three times to end the first quarter to take a solid lead. Then Rochester added the first four goals of the second period to go ahead by 7-0. How bad was it? Scoresheets for the Bandits are only available from 2005 on, but no Buffalo team had ever given up the first seven goals in a game during that time period.
“In the second quarter, we gave up a goal off a draw,” defenseman Steve Priolo said. “That’s pee-wee stuff.”
By the time the half rolled around, Joe Resetarits – the Hamburg native and former Bandit – had two goals and eight assists as Rochester took an 11-4 lead. Resetarits finished the game with three goals and 11 assists for 14 points. When Priolo heard those numbers, he almost did the equivalent of a spit take.
“Jeez!” the Bandits’ captain said. “He’s good! Guys flip around in this league a lot. Joe, when he has the ball, is tough. He puts up the points.”
Rochester merely had to prevent the Bandits from going on a big run for the rest of the game, and it did that nicely enough. In other words, there was no re-run of the Buffalo rally in Saskatchewan where the team came from seven back in the third period to win in overtime.
The oddities weren’t limited to the start. The Bandits managed to take five different penalties within a minute of playing time at the end of the third quarter. The final one led to the ejection of Cordingley, who probably had seen enough of this game by that point anyway.
“It was very, very frustrating,” he said. “I know the league has addressed 95.3, the diving rule. It just wasn’t called tonight. I’m not really sure. I’m honest, and that was it.”
BILLY DEE’S RETURN
And it was odd to see Billy Dee Smith play in another uniform for the first time in this building. Smith moved on to Rochester in the offseason, so it was a sweet if strange homecoming for him.
“It was weird,” he said. “The drive down was weird. I played them twice in Rochester, but coming here was a whole different ball game. It was crazy – I’ve been here for 15 years. It’s the only place I knew for so long. I grew up here.”
Priolo added, “Billy and I were talking about the video tribute they did for him. He said, ‘They showed my goals but they didn’t have enough to fill the time so they had to repeat one.’ “
The Bandits remained in first place in the division, but the standings became a bit tighter when this one was over. Buffalo will have to play much better if it hopes to beat Colorado on the road on March 3.
“We were outworked in every area,” Cordingley said. “We forgot how hard it is to win in this league. It’s a good thing we had such a good weekend two weeks ago. We’ve got to play better.”