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Buffalo Bandits begin 25th anniversary season with dramatic win

Tyson Bell of the Calgary Roughnecks received a rough baptism to the National Lacrosse League on Saturday night – from his relative, no less.

Dhane Smith of the Buffalo Bandits made a move for the memory books, zipping past his cousin in scoring the game-winning goal in a 10-9 win. The score came with 70 seconds left, and thrilled the 14,286 in the First Niagara Center as the Bandits got their 25th anniversary season off to an exciting start.

The Roughnecks had rallied from two goals down in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter to set up the dramatic moment. Smith had the ball on the left side of the floor, with only Bell between him and the goal and plenty of open space to work with.

Almost instantly, Smith was on the other side of the defender with clear sailing toward the goal. LeSean McCoy of the Bills would have been proud of the footwork involved.

“The poor kid, he’s just a rookie,” goalie Anthony Cosmo said about Bell. “He got undressed on the play.”

“That’s my move,” the Bandits’ veteran said about the quick drive to the net. “I don’t want to tell too many people about it. Sometimes I’ll do something different.”

Bell told Smith after the game that he got a little bit tangled up when Smith put on his burst. A couple of steps later, Smith was in shooting position.

“It goes by so quickly, you don’t have time to think,” Smith said. Assistant coach “John Tavares told me to stop thinking out there. I was lucky to beat the goalie.”

Coach Troy Cordingley wasn’t so sure there was luck involved.

“Big players make big shots, right?” he said. “He struggled a little bit with his shooting, but he was getting lots of shots.”

The Roughnecks had a couple of opportunities in the last minute to tie the game. Anthony Cosmo made one last save in the final seconds, and the Bandits’ victory in the home opener was in the books.

“I figured they wanted to shoot with a few seconds left,” Cosmo said. “They’d get one last shot and get a chance at a rebound or a scramble. It was something we knew was coming.”

Bell and Smith are part of a big family in the St. Catharines, Ont., area, that also includes Mark Steenhuis and Billy Dee Smith of the Bandits. This game just might come up at the next family reunion, as it was a close and competitive contest for 60 minutes.

Start with the fact the Bandits had an odd offensive night. Usually, they could count on their big scorers to do a majority of the work. On this night, eight players scored their first eight goals; Ryan Benesch and Smith finished with two goals each.

“That might have been the worst shooting performance we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Cordingley said. “There were shifts we were tentative, and we were unsure about what to do. Our offense just seemed out of sync the whole game. The effort was there, but the smarts weren’t there. At halftime we had missed the net 20 times.”

Neither team led by more than two goals at any point in the matchup. Calgary had three goals on the power play to stay close. Otherwise, the Roughnecks didn’t generate a great deal of offense.

“Our defense played really well,” said Cosmo, who stopped 41 of 50 shots. “We’ve put in a new system this year. We’re trying to stay more compact. When you see the shots, they are easy to stop.”

After a tight first half, the Bandits got a huge boost when Kevin Brownell and Mitch Jones scored short-handed goals nine seconds apart in the third quarter. It gave Buffalo a lead, and as the seconds ticked off it looked as if the Bandits would ride that momentum to the win.

“I think we had five defensive players score,” Cordingley said. “We pushed the ball when we had the opportunity. They’re a very fast team too, so to score that many is very good.”

But the Roughnecks had one more burst in them. Curtis Dickson (two goals) and Tyler Digby (three goals) scored to tie things up with about four minutes left. It was a tense time for the Bandits and their fans until Smith took his cousin to finishing school.

“Luckily, we won the game,” Smith said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. We’ll just move on to next week.”

The Bandits will play the Colorado Mammoth on the road on Saturday night.