By Jeff Baker – Bandits.com
On a night where they threw back the clock at Air Canada Centre to ring in the new year, the Toronto Rock looked like one of their dynasty teams of old in a 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday.
In an old-time lacrosse game that had it all, from acrobatic goals and saves to big hits and physicality, the Rock (1-2) broke through to earn their first victory of the season while the Bandits (1-2) lost their second-straight road game.
Adam Jones led the way for the Rock with a game-high nine points (4+5), Tom Schreiber (3+4) and Rob Hellyer (3+4) each added seven points, and Nick Rose had 39 saves on 52 shots.
Dhane Smith had a team-high seven points (2+5), Callum Crawford had a hat trick, and Josh Byrne, Mitch Jones and Mark Steenhuis all scored twice for Buffalo while Zach Higgins finished with 33 stops on 45 shots.
Off to a slow start offensively with just nine goals in each of their first two games, Toronto found its scoring touch early and often to avenge its season-opening loss to Buffalo.
Tied 3-3 with three minutes left in the first quarter, the Rock used a three-goal burst in a span of 24 seconds to build a lead they would hold the rest of the way.
After Toronto’s shorthanded goal made it 7-3 early in the second quarter, Bandits goaltender Alex Buque was chased from the crease for the second-straight game, this time replaced by Higgins, the newly signed backup.
The change in net seemed to energize the Bandits, who charged back to twice pull within a goal in the middle of the second quarter, with Higgins settling in to make several timely stops.
Toronto responded however by rattling off another three-goal run to enter halftime up 12-8.
Unable to string together consecutive goals in the second half, Buffalo couldn’t get much closer.
The Bandits trimmed the deficit to 14-11 after three quarters, but two goals in the first 44 seconds of the fourth gave Toronto a five-goal lead, diminishing any hopes of a comeback.
Entering the game with the league’s bottom-ranked penalty kills, special teams were a factor for both teams as Buffalo went 3-for-3 and Toronto was 2-for-2 on the power play.
As the Bandits enter the 2018 calendar year, addressing their defensive issues will be a top priority.
Buffalo hadn’t given up 20 or more goals twice in a season since their inaugural year in 1992 and never before in consecutive games.
For the Rock, the game’s 1999 theme brought back memories of their first championship season, which began a storied run of dominance that saw Toronto win five titles in seven years.
With their only trip to Toronto out of the way, the Bandits will close out their season series with the Rock at home in late April.
Returning to Banditland for a two-game homestand, Buffalo will take on the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday, Jan. 6 before hosting the Vancouver Stealth on Saturday, Jan. 13, both at 7:30 p.m.