Toronto may have emerged as the Buffalo Bandit’s biggest rival, but when the Rochester Knighthawks come to town, expect an electric crowd, plenty of action and another streetfight. Last night’s National Lacrosse League game between the Buffalo Bandits and the Knighthawks did not disappoint.
A sold out crowd of 18,690, aided by huge walk up sales and a 2-for-1 300 level ticket promotion, saw the Buffalo Bandits improve to 5-3 at the mid point of the season, as they dispatched the Rochester Knighthawks 11-8.
This one started out as a huge goaltenders duel, Buffalo’s Mike Thompson and Rochester’s Matt Vinc performing as acrobats at both ends of the field. Rochester finally broke open the scoring mid way through the first quarter, but Buffalo answered with two of their own, including Brett Bucktooth’s first of three goals on the night.
Bucktooth would add two power play goals later in the game, none prettier then on a lead pass from Roger Vyse in the third quarter. Vyse had a pretty good night of his own, tallying two goals and adding two assists.
Nonetheless, Rochester would come storming back in the third, scoring three straight within a two minute span midway through the period to make it a 6-6 tie. This all came after Buffalo’s Brandon Francis and Troy Bonterre went at it hot and heavy in a knock out drag out fight which the 6’2″, 245# Francis clearly got the better of. Yet Bonterre was unbowed, gesturing to the fans and getting into things through the glass once escorted to the penalty box.
The fourth quarter opened, and disaster struck. Almost. Rochester’s Scott Campbell raced down the field right off the opening faceoff, and beat Thompson on a breakaway. 7-6 Rochester, and the teams actually resumed play briefly. Then it was stopped as the challenge flag was thrown from the Buffalo bench, and the officials went to a video review.
No goal! Campbell’s foot was in the crease and the goal was wiped out. The momentum changer for Rochester turned into one for Buffalo, and the Bandits immediately capitalized. A few seconds later, Brandon Thenhaus gave Buffalo the lead back with a shot in close, and right after that Mark Steenhuis’ laser gave the Bandits a two goal cushion. The crowd was pumped, the Bandits had momentum, and Rochester never recovered. “It was in the crease, and then we responded and we got a big goal, the crowd got into it, we got another goal and got the momentum. I think that’s important in any game”, said Brett Bucktooth. Coach Darris Kilgour added that his bench noticed the infraction as it was being shown on the arena’s HD Board. “The guys started yelling right away. I thought it might have been too late to throw the flag, but that’s what we did and luckily it was within the time limit.”
With the Bandits nursing a 10-8 lead late, it was keep away time, and Buffalo managed its possessions and defensive schemes almost flawlessly. With Rochester pressing and pulling the goaltender late, Tom Montour raced down the field on a breakaway and added the icing on the cake with the final tally of the game.Final score: Buffalo 11, Rochester 8.
“I thought this was the best defense we’ve played all year, Mikey (Thompson) really stepped it up in net. A complete game, the guys really played well,” said Coach Kilgour. Kilgour knows that stellar goaltending will be a key if the Bandits hope to put together a championship run this year. “For sure. If you don’t have very good goaltending, you’re not going to go very far in the playoffs. Mikey’s been very solid all year. He moves to 5-1 and he’s doing an excellent job for us.”
For Bucktooth, this was just a continuation of his great play in his homecoming at last week’s NLL All Star Game in Verona, NY. Bucktooth greeted the media looking especially fetching as he wore a bright red Japanese kimono. Player of the game award? “Darris gave this to me to wear for the night. It’s something that we do, yeah.” Bucktooth admitted that his play has improved as the season has progressed.”I was a little snakebitten earlier, so I just wanted to come out and shoot with some confidence, was just trying to get shots off quickly.” Kilgour added, “He’s been getting better each game. He’s been a bit snakebitten earlier this year. We definitely need to get him going and couple other guys going.”
The Bandits will only have a short time to savor this one. They catch an early flight to Boston to face the Blazers at TD Garden on Sunday night. At stake will be second place in the very competitive East. “Yeah 5AM wakeup,” said Roger Vyse. “We’ll have to be ready to go. Just another big game.”