The bagpipes played for the first time at KeyBank Center, signifying the home opener for the Buffalo Bandits' 2018-2019 National Lacrosse League season, and, at least for the first quarter, it looked like the Bandits would answer their call with a victory over the Toronto Rock. But once the second quarter rolled around, the Rock showed they were the one's ready to heed the call and went on to a 17-12 victory over the Bandits in front of 10,370 fans at KeyBank Center.
The Bandits came out of the gate strong, preventing the Rock from getting a shot on goal their first possession and forcing a shot clock violation, then turning around and getting a couple good looks, although no shots, on their first possession.
However, the Bandits would turn around and score on their next possession, as Shawn Evans (1 Goal, 6 Assists) scored his 3rd goal of the season 1:39 into the game to give the Bandits a 1-0 lead. The Bandits then won the faceoff and scored their second goal of the game as Josh Byrne (4 Goals, 3 Assists) beat Nick Rose to put the Bandits up 2-0 just 2:06 into the game.
A Rock goal by Johnny Powless on the next possession didn't seem to be much of a bother to the Bandits, as they went on a 3-0 run with 3 staright goals by Thomas Hoggarth (3 Goals, 1 Assist) put the Bandits up 5-1 nearing the end of the first quarter. Even a goal by Damon Edwards with 34 seconds left in the quarter didn't seem like it would be more than a minor speed bump as the Bandits ended the first quarter up 5-2.
But everything changed to start the second quarter. The Edwards goal was the spark of a 6 goal Rock run that put them up 7-5 just 6:26 into the quarter. The Bandits finally got on the board for the quarter with a goal by Chase Fraser that put them down just one that gave some hope they could get back to first quarter form, but the Rock turned around and scored 2 straight goals within 2 minutes. A Josh Byrne goal cut the defecit to 9-7, and that was the score going into halftime.
The first half was a tale of two quarters that almost felt like two different 15 minute mini games. While runs and high scoring are normal in the NLL, the first half was mainly about one big run from each team. The Bandits started hot by going on a 5-1 run in the first quarter, where they had numerous good looks on goal and were scoring on most of their opportunities, while limiting the Rock's looks on Vinc. The forst Rock goal was scored when the defense followed the flow of the play and Johnny Powless snuck in backdoor and got an easy shot 1-on-1 against Vinc, but they held the Rock to mostly outside shots with clear sightlines for Vinc for the first 14:00 of the game. The Edwards goal was a transition goal that, at the time, looked like it was nothing more than a transition chance that was an outlier for the Rock, not the start of a serious run.
In the second quarter, the Bandits defense wasn't as pressuring, nor was it as strong as it was in the first quarter. Matt Gilray's major boarding penalty at 3:55 in the second quarter did not help matters as well, as the Rock converted twice on the powerplay in the middle of their 6-0 run going back to the Edwards goal near the end of the first quarter. The Rock defense also, while not seeming to make any adjustments, stiffened and took away the quality chances the Bandits had and had taken advantage of in the first quarter.
In the third quarter, both team's defense stepped up, not giving up many great scoring opportunities, and if an opportunity came arose, the goalies for both teams stepped up and made great plays. Despite the good defense, the action was fast paced with both teams pushing hard up and down the floor, and the action was fast paced. The Bandits got a goal from Corey Small at 2:09 in the quarter, and the Rock responded with goals from Tom Schreiber (3 Goals, 4 Assists) at 11:12 and Billy Hostrawser at 13:29, which was the total of the scoring for the quarter. The Hostrawser goal ended Matt Vinc's night, after allowing 11 goals in 37 shots.
Entering the 4th quarter, the Bandits were down 11-8, and after a solid defensive third quarter, there could be hope that they could come back from this three goal defecit. Matt Gilray got the Bandits on the board forst in the 4th quarter with his only goal of the game at 2:40 into the quarter, cutting the Rock lead to 11-9. The was followed by a Rock goal by Brandon Slade at 4:09, making it 12-9 Rock. Byrne added another goal at 5:50, making the score 12-10.
The Rock responded with a Dan Lintner powerplay goal at 6:41 in the quarter, which sparked a Rock 5-2 run, leading to the 17-12 final score.
The third quarter was a solid defensive and goaltending display by both teams, while not sacrificing the fast paced action indoor lacrosse is known for. The defenses were limiting chances, and when the offense had a good scoring opportunity, the goalies for both teams were coming up huge, other than the three total goals allowed. The fourth quarter started off with the same feel, as it continued along the same pace for the first 5 minutes or so into the quarter. But as the fourth went along, the Rock's defense was staying stronger and limiting the Bandit's chances on Nick Rose, while not stopping the Rock from getting solid opportunities on Zach Higgins. Higgins was standing strong in net for the first 6:41 of the quarter, but the chances eventually became too many and much as he was left facing too many opportunities with shooters on the crease for the last 8-plus minutes of the game.
Co-coach Rich Kilgour said post-game that he felt the Rock did not make any adjustments after the Bandits 5-1 start, but the Rock shots just started going in and the team started playing “on it's heels”, and he did not place blame on Vinc, but instead put it on the quality opportunities the Rock had. He also stated that he felt that Dhane Smith being out of the lineup hurt on offense as he takes attention away from other offensive threats.
Shawn Evans said the 5-1 start was a “great start,” and “came out hot in our home building, and that's what we want to do, but I think that's all we did.” He did state that the team missed Dhane Smith during the game, but said the team has to be better as a unit.
Captain Steve Priolo called the game “a learning experience,” and stated that when the Rock went on their run, they needed to find a way to stop it.
When all were asked if playing 7 new players “out the back door,” all said that was just an excuse and they needed to play better defensively, and said it was a long season. None placed any blame on the shorter training camp or new faces on the roster, and indicated they would be working in practice to play better in their next game on December 28th as they take on the Vancouver Warriors at KeyBank Center.
Regarding the decision not to play Dhane Smith, Kilgour said that he'd rather have not play Smith at less than full strength and have him at 100 percent later in the season.