Lacrosse excitement returned to the KeyBank Center on Saturday. Not coincidentally from the perspective of those in attendance, so did the Buffalo Bandits’ winning ways.
The Bandits captured their first victory of the season, defeating the Vancouver Stealth, 21-15. It raised Buffalo’s record to 1-2 and came on the heels of two dreary home losses.
It was not a night for goaltenders, as the teams took turns going on scoring runs. As least the net guardians had some help from their friends the goal posts, which kept several more shots from going in.
“There were unlimited posts tonight,” Steve Priolo said about the game. “I hit one early and said to myself, ‘Oh, I’m not going to score a goal tonight.’ ”
But Priolo did score three goals in the game, his first hat trick since Jan. 14, 2014 in Colorado. The last of his goals sparked a game-closing run of six goals. Adam Will and Mitch Jones gave Buffalo some breathing room, and Mark Steenhuis, Alex Kedoh Hill and Ryan Benesch closed the show in style.
It was the first time since Feb. 14, 2009 against Toronto that the Bandits had scored at least 21 goals at home. They did score 21 in Georgia last season.
Drought ends: The Bandits got off to another slow start on Saturday, giving up two goals in the first two minutes. This time, though, Buffalo bounced back. The Bandits got four of the next six goals in the rest of the first quarter to leave the game tied, 4-4.
Then Buffalo’s Anthony Malcom tallied at 0:31 of the second period, and the Bandits had their first lead of the season. They celebrated by scoring back-to-back short-handed goals, as Benesch and Priolo did the honors. It was a game of runs for the rest of the period. Once Buffalo was up, 8-4, Vancouver rallied with four straight goals to tie it. But Jones and Craig England (first NLL goal) put the Bandits ahead by 10-8 at halftime.
Buffalo’s good first half was a welcome change for a team that had dug itself big holes in its first two games. The Bandits spotted Colorado a 3-0 lead in the opener, and trailed by 5-0 last week to Georgia. The only “slower start” by the Bandits since 2009 came on April 23, 2011, when Rochester jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Lineup change: The Bandits were missing forward Dhane Smith from their lineup. He has a sprained ankle suffered last week in the game with Georgia. Smith was wearing a walking boot during the day, so it’s easy to guess that he won’t be back in the very immediate future. The injury probably will cost Smith a chance to defend his National Lacrosse League scoring title and his Most Valuable Player award.
“We all know what Dhane brings, but we’re not a one-man team,” Buffalo coach Troy Cordingley said. “We have to do it as a unit, with everyone picking up part of the load.”
Dhane wasn’t the only Smith to be out of the Bandits’ lineup Saturday night. Billy Dee Smith had the flu and sat out the contest. The team captain gave it a try in morning at the shootaround, but didn’t last long.
Buffalo activated England and Will to take their places on the roster. Craig Point was scratched.
Topsy-turvy: It’s been an odd start to the season in the NLL. The four teams that reached the division final last summer had a combined record of 2-8 entering Saturday’s games. Calgary (2-1) is the only one with a win, going 2-1. Georgia (3-0) and Toronto (2-0) are the only undefeated teams in the league.
“This league is razor-thin in difference in teams,” Cordingley said. “We always stress it every night, but any team can win. If you don’t give it a full effort, you’re behind the 8-ball.”
Next up: The Bandits play their first road game of the season next Saturday night at New England.