By Jeff Baker - Bandits.com
Rookie Josh Byrne scored a career-high five goals and Dhane Smith recorded a season-high 11 points as the Buffalo Bandits earned a 16-14 road win over the Rochester Knighthawks before a crowd of 9,425 at BlueCross Arena on Saturday night.
Keyed by a 7-0 scoring run in the second half, the Bandits (4-3) handed the Knighthawks (2-5) their fifth-straight loss and pulled into a tie with the Toronto Rock for second place in the East Division.
After a milestone night with three goals and eight assists, Smith currently sits fourth on the Bandits’ all-time goals list behind John Tavares (815), Mark Steenhuis (447) and Mike Accursi (207).
Byrne, the first overall pick of the 2017 NLL Draft, leads all NLL rookies in goals (11), assists (14) and points (25). Callum Crawford, returning from a one-game suspension, added seven points (2+5) and ranks third on the team in points (27), trailing Smith (46) and Jones (34).
Bandits captain Steve Priolo had a game-high 13 loose balls and fellow defenseman Mitch de Snoo, who now ranks third in the league in loose balls, had 11 recoveries for a ball-hawking Bandits team that leads the NLL in that category.
The Knighthawks opened the scoring with two goals in a 30-second span less than five minutes in. A timely Buffalo challenge reversed what would have been a 3-0 deficit before Smith and Mitch Jones each scored in under a minute to tie the game at 2-2m midway through the first frame. The teams traded goals in the final five minutes for a 5-5 tie after the first quarter.
The teams again swapped tallies in the second quarter and entered halftime with the score tied at 8-8, led by Byrne’s first half hat trick and two goals from Rochester’s Cory Vitarelli.
Getting off to another fast start in the second half, Rochester pulled ahead 10-8 before Buffalo replied three minutes later with a pair of goals to even it back up at 10-10. Taking advantage of their first power play of the night, Smith regained the lead for the Bandits with 1:56 left in the third quarter then scored another 54 seconds later for his 200th career goal to make it 12-10.
With five lead changes in the back-and-forth game, neither team had led by more than two goals until Buffalo went up 13-8 when Byrne scored his fourth by diving from behind the net with 2.1 seconds left in the third.
Finding their groove offensively, Jones picked the corner shorthanded and Vaughn Harris found the net in his third-straight game as the Bandits extended the score to 15-10 with their seventh unanswered goal.
Rochester stopped the run with a pair of breakaway goals to pull within 15-12 but another athletic goal from Byrne, his fifth of the game, put Buffalo back up by four.
Refusing to go down quietly, the Knighthawks managed to cut the margin to two with an extra attacker goal with 1:33 remaining to trail 16-14. But the Bandits held on for just their second win in their last 10 regular season games in Rochester and their first since 2016, snapping a three-game drought.
Starting goaltender Alex Buque made 45 saves in his first road win of the year while the Bandits were finally able to solve Knighthawks netminder Matt Vinc, who stopped 32 shots.
Vitarelli finished with a team-high four goals for Rochester, leading scorer Joe Resetarits had six points (2+4), and Cody Jamieson was held without a goal, but had four helpers in the losing effort.
Buffalo starts its upcoming back-to-back weekend by visiting the New England Black Wolves on Friday, Feb. 9 before returning home to host the defending NLL champion Georgia Swarm on Saturday, Feb. 10.
Tied 1-1, the Bandits and Knighthawks will meet twice in Buffalo to close out their I-90 rivalry season series, first on Feb. 24 and again on April 28 for the home finale.
And be sure to get the lowdown on all of the Week 9 action on NLL ReLax at Facebook.com/NLLReLax on Monday at 6 p.m.!