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Toronto tops Bandits for first win

TORONTO - The Buffalo Bandits missed an opportunity to throw some more dirt on the Toronto Rock on Friday night.

The Rock, who had lost their first six games after reaching the National Lacrosse League finals last season, defeated the Bandits, 14-12, before 7,837 in the Air Canada Centre.

The loss ended Buffalo’s winning streak at two games, reducing their record to 4-3. The Bandits will try to get back on the winning side Saturday night when they host the Georgia Swarm at the First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., Radio 1520 AM).

As a result of Friday’s game, the Rock have a pulse.

“We definitely missed an opportunity,” Buffalo forward Ryan Benesch said. “We could have had the edge in the divisional tiebreaker, but we let it get away. The bounces just seemed to go their way in this one.”

This was a back-and-forth game, particularly in the second half. It became a question of which team would be able to break away for the game-winning run. The Rock did it, scoring three of the last four goals.

“We had a lot of quality chances in the game,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “Usually guys like Ryan bury those chances. But Nick Rose,” the Toronto goalie, “was sensational. That said, I don’t think we played particularly well in the game.”

Rose contributed at both ends of the field. He made several fourth-quarter saves when Bandits were in alone to keep his team close. One of them came with about four minutes to go, when he robbed Steve Priolo when Buffalo was short-handed. Josh Sanderson came down and scored a power-play goal to give Toronto a two-goal lead, and the Bandits could never get so close the rest of the way.

What’s more, Rose scored a goal into an empty net on a shot from about 200 feet away. Rose said on the public address system after the game that it was the first goal of his pro career. Such scores are quite rare. It’s estimated that there have been fewer than 20 such goals over the years in the NLL, meaning that it happens less than one time per year.

“I think I’ve seen one of them,” Cordingley said about the empty-netter. “When I coached in Calgary, we had a goaltender score in San Jose.”

For the early portion of the contest, it looked as if the Bandits were content to let Toronto’s offense continue their winter snooze. Buffalo blanked an opponent for an entire quarter for the first time this season. If anything, the Bandits should have been up for more than two goals.

The penalty-killing by Buffalo was a big reason for that, stopped Toronto’s first five chances with the man advantage. But the Rock finally scored a goal on chance No. 6 (Kasey Beirnes), and that gave Toronto a needed spark. The Rock scored three straight goals to take the lead, and away it went. Buffalo had a 6-5 lead at the half, despite frequent trips to the penalty box.

“It’s exhausting to kill that many penalties,” defenseman Billy Dee Smith of the Bandits said. “But we felt good going into the halftime with the lead. We should have looked at that as a positive.”

The second half was an excellent one for fan excitement. Both sides stayed out of the penalty box, resulting in plenty of offensive flow and some pretty goals. In the end, Toronto had the majority of the scoring to take the win.

For the Bandits, Dave DiRuscio finished with 44 saves. It was his third straight game in the Buffalo goalie. Anthony Cosmo had missed the previous two starts because of a sore knee. Cordingley said after Friday’s game that Cosmo was ready to go, but he decided not to break up a winning combination.

“He’s a big blocker,” Smith said about the 6-foot-7 goalie. “He’s vocal. He let you know what you’re doing out there. He played well enough to win.”

Dhane Smith, the league’s leading scorer entering the weekend, padded his offensive totals with four goals and four assists, while Benesch had three goals and four assists.

Alex Kedoh Hill twisted an ankle during Friday’s game, and he is questionable for the Saturday game with the Swarm.