The Buffalo Bandits had a very unusual night at the office on Saturday night.
The abbreviated version is that the team concluded a disappointing season in an appropriate manner, dropped a 19-15 decision to the Toronto Rock before 18,417 in the KeyBank Center. The loss left the Bandits with a 6-12 record.
The strange part of the night came during a 15-minute or so span in the 9 o’clock hour, featuring a major milestone for a veteran star and two games in other cities that ended in sudden fashion – both of which affected the Bandits and the Rock.
The milestone was the happiest moment of the night for Buffalo. The Bandits and Toronto had gone back and forth through the first three quarters, piling up the goals without anyone taking charge. Yet Mark Steenhuis was left out of the scoring explosion, as he was stuck on 998 career points for almost 45 minutes.
“He dropped a couple of balls early in the night. When you’re going for a milestone, it happens so often,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “Things settled down, and he started moving the ball.”
The wait came to an end when the Bandits scored a pair of goals late in the third quarter, and Steenhuis was given assists on both of them. He became the ninth player in National Lacrosse League history, and the third Bandit (John Tavares and Shawn Williams) to reach 1,000 points.
“It was a bit of a battle,” Steenhuis said. “I broke the old stick last night, and I had to work in a new one. It’s not on your mind, but it is on your mind. But some of the boys were pulling for me, and it was a breath of fresh air.”
The announcement was made to the biggest crowd of the season, and they responded with loud and long cheers.
“You couldn’t ask for a cooler thing,” Steenhuis said. “The standing ovation from 18-thousand fans was great. The boys told me to get out there and take a bow. It was a special moment.”
“That huge,” teammate Pat Saunders said about the milestone. “He’s been an All-Star in this league. I grew up watching him. It’s a great thing.”
Shortly after that on a field far away, host Georgia and Rochester were tied with a few seconds left. Georgia pulled its goalie - and made a bad pass that was picked off. Graeme Hossack threw the ball the length of the floor into the empty net, beating the final buzzer by a second for the win. The Knighthawks’ victory guaranteed that the Bandits would finish last in the overall standings. Buffalo will have the first overall draft pick this fall - the only reward for its disappointing season.
A short time after that in New England, Corey Small scored for Vancouver at 6:07 in overtime to give the Stealth a victory over the Black Wolves. Small had scored with 18 seconds left in regulation to tie the score.
The win meant New England had missed a chance to clinch second place in the NLL East. Toronto needed to beat Buffalo to earn a home game in next week’s playoff opener.
One of the Rock players somehow heard about the result and told the coaches, who decided to keep it quiet. Even so, Toronto looked rejuvenated as it scored the final seven goals of the game to win going away.
“The effort was there for most of the game,” Cordingley said. “We can have more effort, and our Achilles heel, discipline, came up again. We took some bad penalties at bad times. Their transition game was much, much better than ours. That’s the name of the game right there.”
Brett Hickey of the Rock finished with two goals and two assists during that run, and finished the night with 10 points.
“When we played five on five, we dominated the game,” said Saunders, who had four goals in the game. “But when they got running and gunning, we didn’t respond well.”
Ryan Benesch also had four goals for Buffalo, and added four assists.
With the disappointing season mercifully over, the Bandits now must figure out what to do and how to do it. It will be a big job.
“We’ll sit down with the guys and go over some things in a couple of weekend,” Cordingley said. “I’ll be watching a lot of lacrosse, and talk to the scouts. We’ll be going out and seeing players. We’ve got an awful lot to fix.”
“It’s a cutthroat business,” Steenhuis said. “After a season like this, everyone is going to be looking for change. We’re too good an organization to have a season like this.
“It could be a complete explosion, but change is going to come.”