By Chris Ryndak - Bandits.com
A thousand things could have gone wrong for the Buffalo Bandits on Friday. The way this season has gone so far, it wouldn’t have been very surprising if 10,000 things went wrong.
However, as the Bandits made their way back onto the fioor following the halftime intermission down three goals to the Toronto Rock at the Air Canada Centre, the Bandits took the first steps towards turning their season around.
An offensive outburst of the 13-goal variety in the second half sent Buffalo well on their way to a 21-14 victory. The Bandits (3-6) kicked off the second half of their season by snapping a franchise-record six game losing streak and picking up their first victory in almost two months.
Head coach Darris Kilgour got the most out of his biggest offensive weapons in their most bombastic effort of the season.
Forward Chad Culp led the Bandits in scoring with two goals and six assists against Rock (4-6). Luke Wiles, their most effective offseason acquisition, scored five times and added two helpers.
John Tavares, the 21-year veteran whom the coaches have said they want to adapt to a different role in the offense, chipped in four goals and three assists. Transition player Mark Steenhuis, who has really come alive in recent weeks with 10 points in his two previous games, scored seven points (4+3) against Toronto including two shorthanded goals.
Mat Giles, literally one of the biggest players on the team at 6-foot-4, put up a season-high six points with two goals and four assists and Tracey Kelusky scored twice and added two helpers.
The Bandits power play went 8-for-10 and the penalty kill held the Rock to four goals on nine chances. Kelusky and Wiles also scored shorthanded goals for Buffalo.
The 21 goals were the most scored by the Bandits in a single game since they put up 25 on Feb. 14, 2009 against the Rock.
Goaltender Mike Thompson, who replaced starter Anthony Cosmo when the Bandits fell behind 10-8 with 1:47 left in the second quarter, turned aside 16 of 20 Rock shots to earn the victory. Cosmo stopped 15 of 25 shots in almost a half’s worth of work.
It was the type of team effort Kilgour probably envisioned at the start of the season when he believed they were a championship-caliber team. Now they continue to face an up-hill battle to make the playoffs. Even with the win, they still sit in last place in the East, two full games behind division-leading Philadelphia.
The Bandits opened the second half on a 5-0 run. Buffalo dominated the first nine minutes of play and scored two goals on a four-minute power play caused by an outburst from Rock goaltender Matt Roik. The Rock goaltenders combined for 25 saves on 46 shots.
The run was similar to one they made last week against Rochester but by then the game had already virtually been decided. There was enough time left in this game for that run to make a real difference.
When Toronto overcame a two-goal deficit to tie the game at 13 halfway through the third quarter, a thousand things could have gone wrong again.
The Bandits had given up leads during the losing streak and, as the players and coaching staff would say, mental errors would prevent the team’s ability to impede the other team’s surge. That didn’t appear to be the case Friday night.
Rock captain Colin Doyle’s fourth of five goals came at the 10:47 mark of the third quarter to tie the game. At the 12:41 mark, Wiles scored shorthanded to reclaim the lead and just over a minute later, Tavares added another goal to give the Bandits a two-goal lead at the end of three quarters.
Buffalo didn’t slow down from there. They out-scored Toronto 6-1 in the fourth quarter and everything seemed to be clicking. The defense was physical throughout the second half and limited the Rock to five shots in the fourth quarter.
The way the Bandits dominated the second half was a stark contrast to how the game started. After Mat Giles gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 2:03 into the game, Toronto went on a 5-0 run and it looked like the Bandits might be hard-pressed to end the losing streak.
However, Buffalo then scored three of the final four goals of the quarter and stayed within three goals for the remainder of the half. A thousand things could have gone wrong, but the Bandits overcame their recent troubles for at least one night and walked away with their most dominant performance of the season.
For Toronto, Garrett Billings (3+6), Josh Sanderson (1+4) had strong offensive games in addition to Doyle (5+1).
The Bandits will look to improve upon their effort when they host the Minnesota Swarm (5-3) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center.