BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bandits never surrendered the lead and are back in the National Lacrosse League final for the first time since 2004. They advanced after defeating the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 in front of 10,897 fans in the East Division Final at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo Saturday night.
Rochester managed just 10 goals six despite firing 56 shots at Buffalo goalie Steve Dietrich of Kitchener, Ont. and having six power play chances.
“Dietrich was unbelievable,” admitted Knighthawks head coach Ed Comeau of Hamilton. “When we had really good looks, he rose up and made some really key saves… he stopped some early breakaways and was tough all game.”
John Tavares of Mississauga led the Bandits with three goals, but it was the Six Nations trio of Cory Bomberry (2G, 7A), Roger Vyce (2G, 4A) and Delby Powless (1G, 6A) that opened up the offence. They combined for 22 points. John Grant scored just three goals on 19 shots to lead Rochester. He also had an assist.
Tavares, who is excited about the opportunity to play a championship game in front of his home crowd, said the entire offence was clicking for the Bandits.
“Our offence was moving the ball really well and not taking the first shot we could,” said the Mississauga native. “We were patient. Cory, Delby and Roger were very effective tonight. They shoot and pass the ball so well, we had a really balanced attack.”
Buffalo’s powerplay was lethal, scoring six times on six attempts, including a pair on a five-minute powerplay.
“Our power play has been improving all season long… they were patient,” said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. “But goaltending and defence were the real difference tonight. (Dietrich) allows us to be a pressure team and double team the ball when we need to. When we break down, he’s there for us when we need him.”
The Bandits will host the Colorado Mammoth in the NLL Championship Game on Saturday May 13 at 6 p.m. The Mammoth edged the Arizona Sting 13-12 in the Western Division Final Saturday afternoon.
Buffalo last hosted the NLL championship in 1997 when they lost to Rochester 15-12, and they last won the championship in 1996 winning 15-10 over Philadelphia.
The game started slowly with just a single goal in the opening quarter.
Both teams were held scoreless for the first 11 minutes, with Kim Squire and Pat McCready missing on breakaways for Buffalo. The Bandits’ offence struggled, as did Rochester’s powerplay.
The first goal came unexpectedly.
Bandits forward Jason Crosbie of Oshawa lost sight of a Dan Teat pass in the slot and redirected the ball past Pat O’Toole with his shoulder.
“It was such a big game for both teams, a little bit of jitters early for both teams,” Comeau said.
With the shot clock winding down, Bomberry and Powless set up Vyse who had cut unmarked in front of the net. He was wide open in the slot to put it past O’Toole for a 2-0 lead. A minute later Dan Teat scored a soft goal on O’Toole to give the Bandits a 3-0 cushion just over five minutes into the second quarter.
O’Toole played an uncharacteristically poor game, letting several goals in between his legs.
With the score 4-1 for Buffalo, John Grant scored with 2:31 left in the second quarter. However, Dietrich recovered from that soft goal with two spectacular saves in a row and then a breakaway save on rookie Shawn Evans. Teat scored his second of the quarter late on the power play to give the Bandits a 5-2 lead at the half.
Rochester had their share of breakaway misses in the first half. Steve Toll was stopped in the first quarter on a breakaway, while Chris Schiller, Stephen Hoar and Chris Schiller were also stymied in the second. Shawn Williams and Mike Accursi didn’t even hit the net.
Tavares scored his first of the contest 57 seconds into the third to give Buffalo a 6-2 lead, beating two Knighthawks defenders before burying the ball.
After Pat Dutton scored for Rochester, Bomberry’s signature cannon shot beat O’Toole to make it 7-3 Buffalo.
On a five-minute powerplay with Scott Evans in the box for a roughing major, Mark Steenhuis’ giveaway up top allowed Steve Toll to score on a breakaway shorthanded. But less than a minute later Tavares scored his second of the game on the man advantage to reclaim a four-goal lead, 8-4.
Shawn Evans scored another shorthanded goal for Rochester, but Vyse scored with two seconds left on that power play to make it 9-5 again for Buffalo beating O’Toole low. Scott Evans and Powless exchanged goals to make it 10-6.
Rochester came within two goals again when Millin and Grant scored. But with an extra attacker, Steenhuis made it 11-8 and Buffalo regained momentum. Crosbie gave the Bandits a 12-8 lead with his second of the game. Tavares, Steenhuis and Smith added singles for Buffalo before Grant tallied his third for Rochester.
Buffalo avenged their playoff struggles in recent years at home (entered the game winless in the last two home playoff appearances. In the last playoff meeting between these same two teams, the Bandits were stunned at home losing 19-14 in 2005’s semi-final at the HSBC.
The championship game can be seen live on Fox Sports World Canada and in the U.S. on ESPN 2. Tickets are available at bandits.com or by phone at 1-888-223-6000.
In the West Division Final, the Colorado Mammoth edged the Arizona Sting 13-12 at the Pepsi Centre in Denver.
Heading into the fourth quarter of a tie game, the Colorado Mammoth put the game on its goaltender’s shoulders as Gee Nash made 19 of his 48 saves to backstop the Mammoth to victory.
Nick Carlson, a native of Nanaimo, B.C., started the scoring in the fourth quarter, giving the Mammoth a 12-11 lead after he took a long pass from Nash and beat the Sting down the floor for a breakaway goal. Peterborough’s Dan Carey extended the lead to 13-11 when he scored what would prove to be the game winning goal.
Arizona’s Craig Conn of St. Catharines. scored a game-high four goals and pitched in two assists.
Rob Blasdell took the loss in net for the Sting, making 39 saves on 52 shots