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Great Dhane carries Bandits to win

Dhane Smith didn’t hang around after the Buffalo Bandits’ win on Friday night because he had to hurry to get to a promotional appearance for the team.

No matter. Elvis used to leave the building quickly after his performances, too.

Smith let his skills do the talking in a 17-10 win over the Vancouver Stealth before 14,301 in First Niagara Center. He finished the game with six goals and six assists for 12 points on an almost mind-blowing 20 shots. It probably was his best game as a Bandit.

“What that kid is doing right now is amazing,” fellow forward Mark Steenhuis said. “It’s a true testament to his abilities. He’s a superstar in this league. Everyone knew he had the ability to do this, but he’s really showing it. He’s the No. 1 player in the league, and he could be a No. 1 star on any given night.

“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s amazing just to be a part of it.”

Smith became the first player in the league to go past 100 points on the season. It would appear that he is headed toward the Most Valuable Player award in the National Lacrosse League, as he has a good-sized lead in the scoring race.

If that weren’t enough, Smith is helping out in other areas of the game as well.

“His six goals were certainly impressive,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “But he chased four guys down during the game, stripped them of the ball, and brought the ball back. On two of those plays we scored goals.

“That an MVP. It’s a no-brainer. He’s incredible. And the best thing about him is that he’s a team guy. It’s all about the team.”

Twenty shots in a game seems like a great way to be labeled a ballhog, but Smith worked nicely with the rest of the offense – especially in the second half – as the Bandits won their fourth in a row.

“Everyone is contributing,” Steenhuis said. “But he’s the main dog right now, the hot stick. We’re working hard to get him in the game. We all understand that we want to get the ball into his stick.”

Smith was a constant in a game that could have easily been split into two halves. Buffalo trailed for about three minutes after giving up the game’s first goal, but then scoring two goals in 14 seconds (David Brock and Smith) to take the lead for good. But neither team was particularly efficient in the first half, which ended with a 5-2 Bandits’ lead.

“Sometimes it’s tough to come off a week off,” Andrew Watt of Buffalo said. “But we went on a few runs after that. Things just opened up. After getting five in the first half, we got 12 in the second.”

It took the Bandits a little more than a quarter to settle matters. The Stealth, who were playing without two of their top scorers because of injuries, hung around for quite a while and trailed by 9-8 early in the fourth quarter. Rhys Duch, who had six goals, was the major reason why.

But Buffalo immediately answered.

“That’s the second time we’ve put away a team in the fourth quarter,” Cordingley said. “You have to find a way to win games that way if you want to be a championship team. We found a way to win. We scored four goals” in two minutes, 10 seconds. “That was timely.”

Smith had two goals and an assist on a night when he seemed to be involved in a scoring play whenever his team needed one.

“Dhane just keeps getting better,” Watt said. “He’s evolving into a great player at such a young age (23).”

Much of the rest of the night’s news was good as well. The Bandits (8-4) maintained their one-game lead over New England in the division, and got some help when Rochester and Toronto both lost. Buffalo isn’t a lock for a playoff spot yet, but it is headed in the right direction with a game coming up next weekend in Georgia.

“We know what we have to do,” Steenhuis said. “We can’t take any weekends off. We learned a couple of lessons about that earlier. We have to have the same mindset every week.

“Nobody’s easy in this league. Vancouver came in hungry tonight. But we want to get a home playoff game. Things are starting to fall into place.”