The last time the Buffalo Bandits took the HSBC Arena turf they laid an egg in last spring's National Lacrosse League championship game. Mark Steenhuis wasn't about to let it happen again Friday night.
Steenhuis scored five goals and added an assist as the Bandits survived a spirited comeback to beat the expansion New York Titans, 16-14, in their home opener before a record sellout crowd of 18,690. The largest home crowd in franchise history left much happier than did the 16,104 who saw Colorado win the Champion's Cup here in May.
"The most flattering thing is that the fans all came out again," said Steenhuis, who was forced to miss the opener Dec. 30 at Portland because he was serving a league suspension for a butt end in the title game. "We did let them down and everybody feels horrible about that. So it was absolutely great support they showed us."
NLL career scoring leader John Tavares and third-year man Delby Powless each scored three times while Roger Vyse and captain Rich Kilgour added two goals apiece. Kilgour, who had only five total goals the past three seasons, matched last year's goal total Friday night. Mike Thompson, playing for injured starter Steve Dietrich, was solid down the stretch and finished with 51 saves.
Buffalo (1-1) saw its early 8-1 lead trimmed to 12-10 when Bobby Horsey bounced home a shot with just 6.8 seconds left in the third quarter. But Steenhuis restored a three-goal cushion with 12:16 left when he spun left, then right, sending Horsey, who was defending, to the turf. Steenhuis then had a clear path to Titans goalie Matt Vinc and beat him for a goal that restored the momentum.
"I just found he was giving me the baseline instead of the middle of the floor," Steenhuis said. "I saw his feet were a bit tangled up so I faked him and tried to get them tangled a little bit more. It was wide open to the cage and I took it."
Then Powless made it 14-10 with 10:59 left when he took a pass from Vyse and double-faked Vinc before beating him.
"When Mark gets like that you just want to tell him to keep shooting," said Powless. "With his ability to go one-on-one we were just clearing out for him a lot. When he gets the green light, everybody just gets out of his way. When we need a big goal it seems like Mark is always there to get one for us."
Tavares' breakaway goal with 5:49 left gave Buffalo a 15-11 lead, a play that began when Kilgour stripped the ball away from a Titan behind the Buffalo net.
"He [Rich Kilgour] was sick before the game started and we didn't know if he could play," Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "But he had one of the best games in years."
Rich Kilgour tallied an empty-net goal with 33 seconds left after ex-Bandit Pat Maddalena tallied two straight for New York in just 33 seconds to narrow Buffalo's advantage to 15-13. Before Kilgour's important goal, Thompson came up with three dramatic point-blank stops.
"I was just trying to shut the door on them late," Thompson said.
Casey Powell and Gewas Schindler each scored three for the Titans (0-2) while Maddalena enjoyed a five-point night with two goals and three assists.