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Overtime winner highlight of seesaw season for Bandits' Saunders

Buffalo Bandits forward Pat Saunders tied the bow on one of the most improbable comebacks you'll ever see in the National Lacrosse League two weekends ago, but he doesn't want to dwell on it.

"We're back to Square One," Saunders said. "It's nice to win in Saskatoon after that poor start there, but we've got Rochester this weekend. That's what we have to focus on."

Saunders beat Saskatchewan goalie Evan Kirk with a goal off a rebound 1:46 into overtime on Jan. 19, completing a seven-goal second-half comeback against the previously undefeated Rush. The win pushed the Bandits to .500, 3-3, heading into Saturday night's game at the Rochester Knighthawks (1250 a.m).

It was a much-needed bright spot for what's been a forgettable season thus far for Saunders, acquired via a midseason trade with the Black Wolves last year. Through four games he has only three goals and four assists, a far cry from his usual production. He scored 27 goals last season and 44 the year before.

At just 28 years old, it's an unexpected decline but is partially a result of the Bandits roster makeup. Buffalo is strong on the left side of the offense, boasting the likes of Mitch Jones, Jordan Durston and Josh Byrne, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft.

"With every team, you have different opportunities," Saunders said. "I had a lot more floor time and a lot more power play time and stuff like that when I was in New England. When you come to a competitive side here in Buffalo ... you can only give so many opportunities to guys. I take it as they're the guys that are on the power play and I've got to chip in 5-on-5."

The log jam pushed Saunders in a position that's difficult for any veteran to accept – being the healthy scratch. He sat out Buffalo's games against Calgary and Vancouver as the Bandits gave second-year pro Vaughn Harris a look. Saunders watched games from the press box frequently in his first four years in the NLL but hasn't often in the four years since.

"It kind of gives you a different look of the game and your game, too," Saunders said.

The one-time featured scorer is now a depth piece. As he dealt with the role adjustment, he said he turned to Bandits captain Steve Priolo and some of the other veterans on the team for advice.

"I look at it as you don't win championships with your top two guys," Saunders said. "It takes a team. It takes depth. So, I kind of take it as Buffalo still wants me and they obviously still enjoy me. It's great to be a team guy and help the guys out. ... It's about can your bottom guys push the top guys to be better."

Saunders rejoined the active roster just in time for a vital stretch of the Bandits schedule. After playing three straight games against West Division opponents, the Rochester outing kicks off a run of four straight East Division battles.

"This next little bit is going to be the most important part of setting up our playoffs and where we want to sit," Saunders said.

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