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Bandits electrifies crowd in overtime thriller

Filed under: Sports

For pregame hype, go no further than Saturday’s matchup between the Buffalo Bandits and the Toronto Rock.

These two teams know each other well. The guys play together and against each other in summer leagues. Many of the players live in the Buffalo and Toronto areas. These two teams have developed into bitter rivals, the most recent game last spring in the playoffs, when the Rock overcame a huge deficit to steal the game away from the Bandits. Then there was the preseason scrimmage in December, when both teams engaged in a field brawl that forced the cancellation of the event.

All this and more awaited the 16,685 hardy fans who braved bitter cold temperatures to trek down to HSBC Arena, and help raised the curtain on the 20th season of Buffalo Bandits indoor lacrosse in this city. When it was over, it was the Bandits at the winning end of 15-14 overtime thriller, sending the arena into a frenzy, and for the smattering of fans wearing the Rock red and blue, a disappointing ride home whether it be near or far. “It was a great game, a great game for both teams,” said John Tavares, who has played for this franchise almost since day one back in 1992. “It was something that certainly the fans enjoyed and me as a fan it would be something I would enjoy. Lots of goals and lead changes, lots of plays and great hits. It was an entertaining game and I’m just glad we came out on top.”

Buffalo got on the board early. Goals by John Tavares, Chad Culp and Brett Bucktooth, the last goal coming after a lengthy video review, gave the home team the early 3-0 lead. Toronto would then get the next three to tie, and in the second quarter took a brief lead, with Bandit-killers Colin Doyle and Blaine Manning doing most of the damage. The Bandits went to the dressing room with a 9-8 lead.

By the third quarter, the Bandits took complete control of the game. Roger Vyse, Frank Resetarits and Tavares scored early (Tavares ended with three goals on the night), Toronto went scoreless, and by the early fourth quarter Buffalo held a five goal lead.

Toronto came storming back. Seemingly feeling no after effects of having to play on back to back nights, the Rock chipped away at Buffalo’s seemingly insurmountable lead, with Stephan Leblanc scoring three goals. Leblanc’s tying goal came with ten seconds left in regulation, after the Bandits could not get enough manpower into the corners to scoop up loose balls. Toronto had continuous offensive possession in the final minute, and just like that, this game was heading to overtime.

Give Buffalo credit. Despite the huge momentum shift, and having to play defense on the first two possessions of the extra frame, the Bandits managed to use their bodies and physical presence to thwart the Rock attack. “I think we were just trying to get back to the way we were playing the first three quarters,” said newest Bandit Brendan Thenhaus. “We slowed down a bit trying to hold on the lead. But we were really positive, we knew we had a chance to win this game.” In the fourth minute of play it was defensive specialist Chris White who got ball possession, and he sent Scott Self on a partial breakaway down the right side of the field. Self hit the top of the slot, fired a laser past goaltender Pat Campbell, and this game was over.

Was this the biggest goal of Scott Self’s life? “For sure, for sure,” said a beaming Self as he addressed the media. Describing the play, Self said, “We played some pretty good “D”, and Chris White knocked the ball down. I just got a yell and went off and he just slapped me with a pass and I was able to run into it. I was just worried about them catching me and sometimes I am better when I don’t have a lot of time to think about it. If I just pick a spot and shoot it that’s the best for me.” Bandits coach Darris Kilgour added, “I didn’t want to look. I just waited for the…”

For the two head coaches, the emotions of this game bubbled over into the locker room corridors of HSBC Arena. At one end there was Rock coach Troy Cordingley, making no attempt to hide his disappointment, his voice clearly heard amidst the stunned and silent Toronto dressing room. At the other end there was Kilgour, a fierce competitor who is loathe to lose anytime. Despite yet another late meltdown against Toronto, Kilgour was surprisingly upbeat. “The boys stuck with it and we got a big win. A huge win actually. When we were up 13-8 I thought we had a few more great opportunities, Patty Campbell made stops on what otherwise would have broke their backs. They got a couple to put ’em back in.”

The Bandits go to 2-1, while the Rock suffered their first loss of the season, falling to 3-1. These two teams go at it again next Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Kilgour added, “We have all the respect for Troy and Terry and their organization and they have the same respect for us. We certainly expect more of the same next weekend. They have a terrific offense and move the ball well. It should be a really exciting game next week.”

Other items of note –

-For Bandits fans wishing to attend next Saturday’s game up in Toronto, the faceoff at Air Canada Centre is at 7:30PM. Ticket prices run from $68.90 in the ritzy platinum’s down to $15, and the team does offer a promotional package which includes a $25 gift card to a popular Toronto eatery. Check out details at the Toronto Rock web site.

-If you were at the game and expecting a hearty and well crafted 20th anniversary promo video, you would have been disappointed. Following the Sabres organization playbook, where their lacrosse team is treated like the orphan stepchild, the video was nothing more than a random montage of airborne goals, Buffalo players waving their Champions Cups back in the early days, and repeated aerial views of the old Aud. In April of 1992, the first season of the Bandits’ existence, John Tavares scored the overtime championship winning goal at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. That moment gave Buffalo its first championship of any kind in almost three decades. Would digging up that footage, and the call, and giving the fans a true goosebump memory, really have been all that difficult? FAIL.

-Each season the Sabres assign a different graduate assistant as the Bandits media point person. This year 2010 SUNY Oswego graduate and Orchard Park resident Ian Ott has the title and the role, and he shined in his home debut. So we beg this question – when will we get to the point where the existence of the Buffalo Bandits will pre date the birth of the team’s PR guy? The Bandits began play in 1992, and yes Ott was around, just a youngster. Perhaps that ceiling will be breached come 2012.