The Buffalo Bandits talked before Saturday’s game with Vancouver about the need for every player to step up offensively because of the loss of star forward Dhane Smith to an ankle injury.
They took that literally.
Eleven different players scored goals and 13 had points in the Bandits’ 21-15 win over the Stealth in the KeyBank Center. The biggest ones came from a very unexpected source: Steve Priolo. The defenseman had a hat trick, including the game-winner.
“I had one a few years ago, but I never thought I’d see another one,” Priolo says about the three-goal performance.
On a night where teammate Ryan Benesch called Priolo “the best player on the floor,” the veteran defender’s best moment might have come when he predicted the future.
The Bandits had just taken their first lead of the game – and of the season – early in the second period when the Stealth went on the power play.
“I told Benny, ‘We’re going to kill this off,’ ” Priolo recalled. “Then I said, forget that, you’re going to score a goal.”
Benesch made the prediction come true with a short-handed goal, and Priolo followed 57 seconds later with a short-handed score of his own. That seemed to lift the Bandits out of the malaise that had surrounded the team during its two dreary season-opening losses.
“Those are huge goals,” coach Troy Cordingley said. “The short-handed scores are very motivational. It put an extra kick in our step.”
As the final score indicated, it was not a night for goaltenders. Until the Bandits scored the game’s final six goals, no lead seemed safe.
Sparking Buffalo’s offensive burst was the return of a transition game that had been missing in the previous contests. The ball moved quickly up the floor after a change in possessions, often resulting in scoring chances.
“Offensively, our transitional game was huge tonight,” Cordingley said. “We’ve talked about that at length this week. It got our offense going, and we shared the ball. That’s what we need to do to be successful. You’re going to have golden opportunities from trying to confuse the defense with ball movement.”
“It was a team effort,” Benesch said. “The guys were playing unbelievably. We moved our feet, and moved the ball.”
The statistics reflected all of that. Benesch had four goals and five assists for nine points. His goal total was matched by Mitch Jones.
“I was told to shoot the ball,” Jones said. “I think we did a good job of moving the ball around, and I took the ball when I could.”
Anthony Malcom and Brad Self had five-point games. All of that offense was needed, because Vancouver’s big scorers came up with impressive offensive totals as well. Corey Small had 10 points for the Stealth. Rhys Duch added seven points, while Logan Schuss had four goals.
It was one of those games that looked like the team with the last shot would win, although the Bandits took care of that with their game-ending run. Priolo says we should all get used to that sort of game.
“That’s the way the league is going these days,” he said. “The days of 6-4 games are over. ... With all the power plays being called, if your special teams aren’t good, you don’t have a chance. You have to hold the other team to under 12, 14 goals to win now.”
It’s tough to call the third game of the season a “must win,” but no one on the Buffalo side wanted to start the season 0-3 with all three losses coming at home.
“We needed that one,” Benesch said. “In our first two games, we were so flat. The fans here deserve a way better effort, and we hope we made it up to them. Now we have to keep the ball rolling.”