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More highs than lows for Bandits

It will be remembered as a season that could have unraveled early, yet should have extended one more game.

The Buffalo Bandits were eliminated in the National Lacrosse League semifinals Friday night, surrendering a three-goal, fourth-quarter lead in a 14-13 overtime loss to the host Rochester Knighthawks.

The 11-7 season marked the fifth straight year the Bandits made the playoffs since Hall of Famer Darris Kilgour returned to the organization as coach.

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Uppers

*An eight-game winning streak, the second-longest in the franchise's 16-year history, following a 2-4 start kept the Bandits right on the heels of the Knighthawks, who will go into the Champion's Cup final having won 14 in a row.

"I have no bad feelings about this season," Kilgour said. "Every time a team plays against us they know we can beat them. I, and my team, take a lot of pride in that."

*Stalwarts and newcomers both made huge contributions. Original Bandit John Tavares, the NLL's career scoring leader, had the second-most productive season of his career with 103 points and would seem a lock to be named a first-team All-Star for the 13th time.

"I hope to be back [next year]," Tavares said. "I rely on the guys around me to produce [my] offense. Sometimes it seems like I just need to show up to get three or four points."

First-year Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson contributed six wins, including one in the playoffs, in his first NLL action since 2001. First-round draft pick Brett Bucktooth flourished as the year went along and looked comfortable as a future NLL star with three postseason goals.

*Home attendance at HSBC Arena increased for the fourth straight season. The Bandits attracted 15,041 per game, their highest figure since 1997, and finished third among the league's 13 teams. Since 2003, home attendance has increased by nearly 115 percent.

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Downers

*For whatever reason, the combination of overtime and Blue Cross Arena continues to be lethal. The Bandits went 0-3 in OT this season and six of their last eight overtime games have been in Rochester, with the Knighthawks winning five.

*For the fourth straight year, faceoff work was seriously sub-par. Buffalo won 41.2 percent to rank 11th. Since 2004, the Bandits have won less than 40 percent of their draws.

*Injuries to key personnel derailed hopes for the franchise's first championship since 1996. Goalie Steve Dietrich, the 2006 NLL Most Valuable Player, missed the first four and final three games with knee injuries. Bucktooth was limited early with a hamstring problem and All-Star midfielder Pat McCready missed the last three regular season games with a back injury.

"I just wish one time we'd have everybody healthy for these big games," Kilgour lamented. "I really look forward to the day we have a full team going into the playoffs."

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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