The nicest moment of a wonderful Friday evening for the Buffalo Bandits might have been the very last one.
They had just defeated the Rochester Knighthawks, 13-10, to put an appropriate finishing touch to a night that included the retirement of John Tavares’ uniform number. The Bandits prepared to take their traditional victory lap around the edge of the field in First Niagara Center. But when the team began to run, it was Tavares who led the way.
And the 18,751 in attendance gave out a giant roar on a night that was filled with them.
“I think everybody on the team had that idea,” Dhane Smith said about letting Tavares go first. “It took a lot of convincing.”
“It was a little slippery out there in good shoes,” Tavares said. “I didn’t want to fall. I thought they might pull the rookie stunt where they send someone out and then don’t follow him. I cut it short after a little while.”
The evening was split into two parts in a sense – one about the past, one about the present. Tavares’ 24-year career was celebrated in a 30-minute ceremony that included a couple of superb videos, some presentations of gifts, a speech by Tavares, and the unveiling of a No. 11 banner in the rafters between retired numbers 16 (Rich Kilgour) and 43 (Darris Kilgour) and the four championship banners.
“I did surprisingly well on the speech,” Tavares said. “It was a great presentation by the Bandits, very professional.
“But more importantly, the team won. It’s always nice to win in such situations. A loss puts a damper on everything.”
This was one of those nights where the Bandits had to be careful to leave something in the emotional tank for later in the game. They did that, and it paid dividends.
“We talked about that,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “Watching the greatest player to ever play the game have his jersey raised to the rafters was a proud moment for all of us. The guys wanted to give him a gift of a win, and they did a good job. They were in control. There was no panic.”
The Bandits only trailed once, at 7-6, throughout the contest, but the Knighthawks were always within striking distance – in part due to a power play that went 4 for 5 for the night. But with the score tied, 8-8, early in the fourth quarter, Buffalo scored four straight goals to take control. Mark Steenhuis, who had become the 10th player in National Lacrosse League history to score 900 points, had two of those goals, while Ryan Benesch (six points) and Dhane Smith (seven points) had the others.
“We’re doing the little things by working for that one good shot,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who takes it.”
At the other end, Anthony Cosmo (42 saves on 52 shots) and the Bandits’ defense turned in a very solid performance.
“Coz was brilliant again, and the defense was unbelievable,” Cordingley said. “We played well for the entire game. There were a couple of minutes where we were a bit goofy and took a couple of dumb penalties, but that was it.”
The win was Buffalo’s third in a row and improved the team’s record to 7-4. The Bandits now lead the NLL East by a half-game, pending New England’s matchup with Rochester on Saturday night. What’s more, the Bandits always enjoy beating the rival Knighthawks.
“We owed them from beating us a few times last year,” Smith said. “It was a huge game, and doing that for JT is unbelievable.”
The Bandits have a week off before playing again on March 25 against Vancouver.