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Bandits fall in fight filled night in Toronto

Filed under: Sports


Eight, count ’em… EIGHT players crowd the Toronto Rock penalty box in the first quarter

TORONTO…Five ejections. Team records for penalty minutes. As many as eight players in the penalty box.

And all that was just in the first quarter.

Last night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Buffalo Bandits tried to take two games in a row against the Toronto Rock. Following last week’s overtime thriller, both teams were eagerly looking forward to the rematch.

But this time it was the Toronto Rock on top, holding on to win the game 8-5, after taking a 6-1 lead into the 4th quarter.

This game got ugly quickly. Two brawls ignited before two minutes had elapsed, resulting in numerous major penalties and two player ejections one on each team. When play resumed it took all of seven seconds before big Brandon Francis got into a scrum with Toronto’s Ryan Sharp, with Francis earning the ejection.

But the major battle of the game happened with five minutes gone. Steve Priolo went headhunting looking for retribution, following what he saw as cheap shots against his team’s core players. The resulting scrum had several Rock players crumpled in the Toronto net, several other players engaged in floor fights, and play was held up for over 25 minutes before the referees could sort it all out. Priolo was also ejected from the game. All in all, Buffalo was assessed 70 penalty minutes during that first quarter, while Toronto earned 62 minutes. “It wasn’t so much about what happened on the floor,” explained Priolo. “I was still upset about what they did to Tracey Kelusky on the play before. Teams start to learn that you don’t hit J.T. (John Tavares), you don’t hit our star players and if you go after them you have to pay the price. By jumping off the hop they started something we finished we play like that.” Priolo admitted that there is an unwritten code not to mess with the stars. “You can give out clean hits, and this year we don’t have just one player who is the tough guy. It’s whoever is on the floor is gonna go after their guys. That’s team toughness. It just happened to be me on the floor at that time.”

In the midst of this they did play some lacrosse. Toronto got on the board first, then the teams traded goals late in the frame and the Rock lead 2-1 following the first quarter, a period where the Bandits could not mount a sustained scoring threat despite numerous three-on-three situations and four-on-three power plays.

While the teams settled down with both sides now playing short benched, it was Toronto who padded their lead while the Bandits failed to mount any sort of game rhythm. By the end of three quarters Buffalo was down 6-1. “The game was over-officiated in the first half, and we failed to score. Same stuff different day,” fumed coach Darris Kilgour after the game.

But Buffalo would finally get their groove back, with Toronto trying to play keep away and the Bandits capitalizing on scoring opportunities. Roger Vyse got Buffalo on the board early in the 4th, then Mark Steenhuis, Chad Culp, and Tracey Kelusky with a laser brought Buffalo to within one. A Toronto goal was disallowed due to a video review, but then with three minutes to go, the Rock grabbed a nifty goal right in front of the crease, thanks to Colin Doyle, to give their team a two goal lead. Doyle ended up scoring four of the eight Toronto goals. Buffalo pulled goaltender Angus Goodleaf, who played an outstanding game in his first 2011 start, but Toronto goalie Bob Watson turned away three great scoring chances in the closing minute, and an empty netter wijth 20 seconds to go sealed the win for Toronto, before a paid crowd of 10,812.

Coach Kilgour said that playing with a short bench did not doom his team’s chances. “We have a bench of 15 players, and that’s all we need. They are all used to playing three lines. We had plenty of ‘D’ guys, and plenty of ‘O’ guys, and it really wasn’t that much of an adjustment. We could not keep our focus, and we were very selfish tonight. We did what we wanted to do, and not what the team wanted to do, and it was really stupid play. You’re not going to win many games scoring five goals.”

Mark Steenhuis added, “It was a tough loss offensively for us. I mean, we were getting shots, I don’t think our guys played the way they could play. But overall we’ve got to come up with a better effort.”

Steenhuis’ offensive output has fallen dramatically from previous seasons, but he is trying to take it in stride. “I am always disappointed in myself, and I tend to put pressure on myself as much as possible.” Interestingly, Steenhuis admitted that he has been thrust in a bit of a different role this year. “My points aren’t as high as maybe they’ve been in the past, which is totally fine. I am contributing on different things this year. I’m going out the ‘D’ door where last year I was primarily an offensive player. This year they have me in transition. I’m not very pleased with my numbers so far in a transition role. If I start bearing down on the ball more that will definitely help the team.” When questioned further, he said this change in playing pattern comes from the top. “When I showed up this year they told me they have different plans for me, and this would work out with the way this team was going to go, so they put me back on the ‘D’ door. It is something they did and if they think that will help the team you just got to pull your weight at that end and do what’s best for the team.”

The Bandits, now 2-2 at the quarter point, return home on Friday to take on the Minnesota Swarm at HSBC Arena. The team is offering a buy one-get one free deal for 300 level tickets. Check the web site at www.bandits.com for details.