ROCHESTER – The Buffalo Bandits’ finish to their game with the Rochester Knighthawks was straight out of a storybook.
The Bandits defeated the Knighthawks, 15-13, before a sellout crowd of 10,716 in the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. They wrapped up the victory in the last six seconds on an empty-net goal by Dhane Smith.
Not only did that goal give Buffalo a big win in the playoff race, but it gave Smith the all-time National Lacrosse League record with 131 points in a season. It broke the mark set by Shawn Evans of Calgary last year.
“I didn’t even realize I had set the record until I got into the locker room, and the guys told me,” Smith said. “That’s funny. I’m glad I got it over with. There’s not as much pressure on me now. I just want to play my game. It seems like that’s all we’ve been talking about for a few weeks.”
Smith finished with four goals and four assists. He still has one target left: four more goals in next week’s regular-season finale would give him 72 for the season and break another NLL record (Athan Iannucci, Philadelphia, 2008).
“He’s been outstanding all year long, and the best thing about him is that he’s always team first,” coach Troy Cordingley of the Bandits said. “He’s only 24 years old, and he’s got a great future in front of him.”
Smith’s second-most memorable play of the night came much earlier, and surprisingly, on the defensive end.
The Bandits had been chasing the Knighthawks for most of the night, but couldn’t quite get past them for much of the first three quarters. Then a Rochester player took off from midfield on a breakaway. With no time for a switch in personnel, Smith took off in pursuit. He caught up to the Knighthawk and delivered a crunching check that sent the opposing player sprawling to the ground.
“Dhane’s awfully good on offense, but when he needs to he can help out on defense too,” Cordingley said. “He’s been chasing guys down all year long.”
The Bandits still trailed, 9-8, early in the fourth quarter. So often in this building, it’s been Rochester that has taken hold of tight games against Buffalo to come out a winner. This time, the Bandits went on a 5-0 run to grab a good-sized lead with less than three minutes to go. Mark Steenhuis had three of those goals and Smith had two.
“We stuck around, even when we weren’t playing well,” Cordingley said. “We found a way to stay close. Then in the fourth quarter we found our groove. Mark Steenhuis was unbelievable.”
Yet the game wasn’t over. Rochester scored four goals in a little more than two minutes - Hamburg’s Joe Resetarits had three of them - to cut the lead to 14-13 with 10.1 seconds left.
Then on the faceoff after the last goal, the Knighthawks were called for a violation to give Buffalo possession.
“He did go early,” Bandits’ faceoff man Jay Thorimbert said. “I’m glad they called it, but I didn’t think they would.”
Buffalo got the ball to Smith, who ran through the defense to score the historic goal.
“I just kind of went toward the net, an open net,” Smith said about the last play.
The Bandits didn’t get any help from New England, winners over Georgia on Saturday night. That prevented them from clinching the division title a week early. Cordingley said he wasn’t getting updates on the Black Wolves’ game during the night.
But the Bandits gave themselves a little extra cushion as they try to wrap up first place in the NLL East. If Buffalo beats the Black Wolves next Saturday at First Niagara Center, it claims the division title and a first-round playoff bye. If the Bandits lose that game, they can still win the division if New England loses a day later against Rochester.
“Nothing comes easy in this league,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to next week’s game.”