In another crucial game at HSBC Arena, the Buffalo Bandits pulled out yet another close victory Saturday night in front of a crowd of 16,340. They have been dominant at home, with a 4-1 record at the arena.
Going into the game, the Bandits were merely a half game ahead of the visiting Boston Blazers and a loss would have dropped the Bandits to third place in the East. The Bandits played the all-around game they needed to in order to win 12-10.
"The boys played real well. Mikey Thompson was solid in net -- he had some huge saves for us and I can't say enough about the defense," coach Darris Kilgour said.
The offense came up big when it needed to, rallying behind star forward John Tavares and transition player Mark Steenhuis, who combined for 13 points. Going into the fourth quarter tied 9-9, the offense poured it on, outshooting the Blazers 17-7. Most importantly, they assaulted the Blazer defense with a relentless forecheck with the lead in the waning minutes.
They came out with possession with 1:10 left in the game, which allowed Steenhuis to kill another 30 seconds.
Tavares, 42, has not lost too much since his younger days. He still has a hard shot with pinpoint accuracy and displayed great athleticism with a diving goal from behind the back of the net, and a diving goal over the goaltender's shoulder short side for the crucial game winner. He is still among the best in the league, currently ranked 11th in the National Lacrosse League in points with 48, and has played one less game than most of the leaders.
"He surprises me all the time. I can't even do half the stuff he does and I'm 12, 13 years younger than he is," transition player Tom Montour said.
The play on the other end of the floor was very solid as well. The defense played well as a unit on the whole, forcing multiple 30-second clock violations throughout the game. In the final 30 seconds, the Bandits blocked a hard shot that could have tied the game and ran it down the floor for an empty net goal to seal the deal.
Thompson had several big saves throughout the game, including one with the score tied 10-10 on Ryan Powell when he was all alone.
There were a lot of good signs that the whole team is coming together. The stars were stars and made big plays when they were needed. The defense stayed strong for almost the entire 60 minutes and were bailed out by a hot goaltender in Thompson.
Additionally, the whole team is contributing. Montour was a great force in the game, contributing two points, including the assist on the empty net goal, and wreaking havoc on the forecheck.
Forward Brenden Thenhaus was a force in the offensive zone, finding the soft spot in the defense and amassing four points. Defensemen Scott Self was a crucial part of the defense and chipped in two assists.
This was a huge game for the Bandits with implications for the rest of the season. In addition to moving a game and a half ahead of the third-place Blazers, the Bandits play as of late is a big swing in the right direction. They are second in the East and ranked second in the NLL Power Rankings. The team has a shot at an NLL championship.
Derik Wagner is a senior at Canisius High School.