Historic Night in Banditland Sees Bandits Clinch First Place in NLL With 12-7 Win Over New England
By Zac Hirschbeck - Bandits.com
In front of a packed house in Banditland, the Buffalo Bandits made history with a dominant 12-7 win over the New England Black Wolves on Saturday. With the victory, the Bandits clinched first place in the East Division, the No. 1 overall seed in the NLL, and they also set a franchise record with their 13th win of the season.
Although Buffalo started off the game a little slow, the well-rounded efforts that have defined Buffalo’s 2016 season to date soon came to life once again.
“We accomplished several goals that we set at the beginning of the year, and I thought the guys were real good tonight,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “Earlier on we were a little bit tight, but as we settled in and we played the way that we can play.”
In the victory for the Bandits, Dhane Smith once again put together a record-breaking performance. One week after breaking the NLL’s single-season points record, a four-goal night from “The Great Dhane” saw the forward break the NLL’s single-season goals record by recording his 72nd goal of the season.
While Smith’s performance against New England was merely a single game in what proved to be a historic individual campaign, the young forward managed to finish the season in very fitting fashion.
“It has been a privilege to play with him and you’re going to see many more years like this one out of him,” forward Mark Steenhuis, who notched his 900th point as a Bandit on Saturday, said. “He’s a special player and to be a part of it, and to witness it, and to go to battle with him day in and day out has been so cool for me. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”
Unsurprisingly, the humble Smith was both quick to credit his teammates, and eager to turn the page and look ahead to the team’s playoff run.
“It was in the back of my mind, but the guys really helped me through it,” said Smith. “It’s good to have it off my back, but now it’s the playoffs and that’s all that matters.”
In addition to Smith, the Bandits received fantastic performances from their other top guns on offense. The aforementioned Steenhuis had a seven-point night (4+3). Ryan Benesch also had a seven-point night (3+4) in the win.
The balanced scoring from Buffalo’s offensive leaders was a product of the trio’s selflessness.
“The best thing that our offense is doing is sharing the ball, and that’s hard to stop,” Cordingley said. “Once they locked onto Dhane, Mark took over, and then Benny took over. We have that to our advantage and our offense is believing in playing as a five-man unit to get the best possible shot for somebody.”
Defensively, Davide DiRuscio stepped up in net for Buffalo after seeing starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo depart the game due to an injury with 5:55 left in the opening quarter.
A Black Wolves forward dived awkwardly into Cosmo's right leg and he remained down before limping off with the assistance of the Bandits’ training staff. He did not return to the game.
DiRuscio made 43 saves on 49 shots to record the win.
|WATCH: TROY CORDINGLEY|
|WATCH: DHANE SMITH|
|WATCH: MARK STEENHUIS|
In the defeat for New England, Jordan Hall had a four-point night (4+4) and Brett Bucktooth (1+2) and Kevin Buchanan (1+1) chipped in three points apiece. Evan Kirk made 38 saves on 50 shots in net for the Black Wolves
Buffalo opened the scoring with 1:56 played courtesy of their star forward. After taking a feed from Steenhuis, Smith fired a shot past Kirk from straightaway to give the Bandits an early lead.
New England tied things up just over a minute later. Despite being shorthanded, Shawn Evans scored his lone goal of the night after a quick cut to the middle created room for a bouncing shot that beat Cosmo five-hole.
The Bandits pulled back in front just 25 seconds later through Smith’s second of the night. The 24-year-old scooped up a misplaced pass, and fired home a shot from an almost identical spot as his opening tally.
The Bandits extended their lead with just over five minutes remaining in the quarter. Following some impressive work in his own end, David Brock found Anthony Malcom around the halfway line, and Malcom methodically worked his way to the front of the net and converted from in tight.
The Black Wolves wrapped up the scoring with 1:19 left in the first. Kevin Buchanan fired a long-range shot from DiRuscio’s left to make it 3-2 in favor of the Bandits heading into the second.
Buffalo opened the scoring again in the second. With 1:55 played, a hard charging run to the net by Smith culminated in the forward finishing off his hat trick. The goal, which was his 71st of the season, tied the NLL’s single-season goals record, which was set by Athan Ianucci in 2008.
New England answered just less than two minutes later to trim Buffalo’s lead to one. Kyle Buchanan scooped a loose ball, and converted a breakaway opportunity despite heavy pressure from a Bandits defenseman.
Buchanan’s tally proved to be the lone Black Wolves goal in the second as the Bandits stepped up their defensive pressure and finished the first half on a four-goal run.
With 5:15 played, a hard hit in the defensive end created a quick transition opportunity, and Steenhuis found himself in all alone on Kirk. The veteran forward then calmly finished past the Black Wolves goaltender to make it 5-3.
Over four minutes later, Smith made history with his 72nd goal of the season with fourth goal of the night, which came on a hard shot that managed to just creep its way into the back of the net.
Steenhuis’ second of the night pushed the Buffalo lead to four with 3:46 played, and Benesch scored his first goal of the night with 2:23 remaining to make it 8-3 Buffalo heading into the break.
New England managed to kick off the scoring in the second half. With 2:25 played, a diving effort across the face of DiRuscio’s goal from Bucktooth resulted in a goal.
However, a three-goal run from Buffalo pushed the lead to seven.
First, with 4:16 played, a pretty ball fake from Benesch allowed the forward to score from in tight past Kirk to make it 9-4.
With an assist on Benesch’s second goal of the night, Steenhuis picked up that 900th point with the franchise and then added to his staggering point total with a pair of power-play goals minutes later.
With 8:22 played, the veteran forward finished off his hat trick from straightaway after Buffalo collected several second-chance opportunities. Then, with just under four minutes left in the quarter, Steenhuis took punishment from two Black Wolves defenders but still managed to score for his fourth goal of the night.
New England wrapped up the scoring in the third with 2:38 to play. A leaping effort from Hall made the score 11-5 in favor of Buffalo heading into the fourth.
The Bandits opened the scoring in the final quarter to push the lead back up to seven. A long-range shot from Benesch found its way past Kirk to complete the forward’s hat trick and give Buffalo a 12-5 lead.
Hall answered back with his second goal of the game for the Black Wolves a little over a minute later, and Pat Saunders scored his lone goal of the night on the power play to cut the Buffalo lead to 12-7 with 6:27 remaining.
Saunders’ goal proved to be the final tally from either team in the game as Buffalo shut the door to preserve their historic night.
While their opponents remain to be determined, the Bandits next game will come in two weeks time when the team will play Game 1 of the East Division Finals on the road.
Regardless of the opponent, the Bandits will enter the playoffs with momentum on their side.
“We wanted to finish the season on a high note and get rolling heading into the playoffs, and we accomplished that,” said Steenhuis. “But now the real season starts and we have to be ready for it.”