By Jeff Baker - Bandits.com
Entering the game as the National Lacrosse League’s only winless team, the Vancouver Stealth appeared to be headed to its fifth-straight loss to the start the season after an early 3-0 deficit.
But the Stealth’s once-dormant offense suddenly came alive en route to a hard-fought 11-10 overtime road win over the Buffalo Bandits (2-3) at KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
Desperate to find consistency in net, the Stealth turned to third-stringer Eric Penney. Traded from Buffalo to Vancouver in 2014, the goaltender impressed while turning away 52 shots in his first NLL action in two years.
“He kept us in the game early and it would’ve been real easy to fold up the tents,” Stealth head coach Jamie Batley said. “But our guys rallied. We knew it was only a matter of time.”
Vancouver’s time came in the second quarter as they scored five-straight goals in a span of a little over three minutes to take a 5-3 lead. Buffalo managed to stop the momentum and even the score before halftime yet the Stealth were able to stay hot in the second half.
“Lacrosse has always been a game of runs, especially the NLL game,” said Bandits forward Mitch Jones, who forced overtime with an extra-attacker goal late in regulation. “It’s fast. It’s back and forth. As an offense...we went a bit cold there.”
After two early third-quarter goals by the Stealth, an under-the-radar preseason trade paid dividends for Buffalo. Acquired from Calgary a day before the season opener, Vaughn Harris netted his first two career goals two minutes apart to tie the score at 7-7.
“He got us back in the game,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “Vaughn is very capable of playing. He’s got a great shot. He can play both ends which is a bonus for us...we’d like to think we’re deep.”
Harris got some sound advice ahead of his Bandits debut from his older brother Roger Vyse, a gifted scorer who played with Buffalo for seven seasons until 2012.
“He just told me to think ‘it’s another game’ and play as hard as I can,” Harris said. “I got the news I was in [the lineup] last night at practice. So all my family came down, which was nice. It was a good feeling.”
The Stealth regained the lead on Corey Small’s fourth goal with about five minutes remaining in the third quarter before Logan Schuss got his hat trick five minutes into the fourth to put the visitors up 9-7.
Less than a minute later, the Bandits tied the game again with two goals 23 seconds apart from Jones and Josh Byrne. But Vancouver answered with Rhys Duch’s second goal with 4:50 left to pull ahead, 10-9.
Unable to capitalize on a power play in the final minutes, the Bandits kept up the pressure and got the equalizer with the goalie pulled when Jones found the net with 21.9 seconds on the clock.
“A positive thing about this is we found a way to get it to overtime,” Cordingley said. “We did struggle and we weren’t as good of a team as we were last week. But we found a way to get there...just couldn’t finish the job.”
Joel McCready beat Alex Buque, who had 39 saves, for the winner 2:12 into the extra frame as the Stealth earned the much-needed win and handed Buffalo its first defeat at home.
On a night where Small led the way with eight points (4+4) and Schuss had seven points (3+4), it was one of the league’s fiercest competitors who came through in the clutch for Vancouver.
“He’s the heart and soul of our offense and our team,” Batley said of McCready, a former NLL Teammate of the Year winner. “It’s nice that the ball was in his stick and he got that goal because he deserves that.”
Still searching for their first victory on the road, the Bandits will visit the Saskatchewan Rush on Friday, Jan. 19 at 8:30 p.m. to begin a three-game stretch of away games before returning home to face the defending NLL champion Georgia Swarm on Saturday, Feb. 10.