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Late run lifts Bandits over Knighthawks

By: Liam Hoffmann

ROCHESTER, NY-- Saturday night, lake-effect snow and travel bans weren't enough to stop the Buffalo Bandits from coming to Blue Cross Arena and taking down the Rochester Knighthawks 15-13. Tonight's contest was the first meeting between these two sides since the Bandits defeated the Knighthawks in the 2023 NLL Playoff Quarterfinals en route to an NLL championship.

The Bandits after they scored a goal. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 The Point

The rivalry between these teams inspired lots of physicality for all 60 minutes. In the first quarter alone Blue Cross Arena saw a fight as well as two scrums that resulted from goalie interferences.

"It adds a little bit more motivation to the game," Knighthawk Ryan Smith said. "They're the standard in this league. There's a reason for that, they won the NLL championship last year, and they're still that same team."

Thomas McConvey after a hit to the face. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 The Point

Smith scored the game's first goal 50 seconds after the opening faceoff, to start what would be a huge night for him. He scored four goals and recorded five assists, which matched a career-high nine points that he recorded the last time that the Bandits came to Blue Cross Arena.

In goal for Rochester was Riley Hutchcraft and across the turf was Matt Vinc. Hutchcraft began the game with back-to-back saves but Bandit Dylan Robinson found paydirt just a minute after Smith to get Buffalo in the scoring column. The night evolved into a game of runs where the Knighthawks scored four unanswered goals to end quarter one, which enabled them to roll into quarter two with a 5-7 advantage.

"We're trying to grind on them a little bit," Knighthawks' head coach Mike Hasen said. "That was one of our focuses this year, if we can grind them out, opportunities will present themselves."

From start to finish, an integral part of Rochester's offense was that they created quality shots very late in the shot clock.

The Knighthawks after they scored a goal. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 The Point

Smith scored his third goal of the night within the first minute of the second. However, the Knighthawks' lead was quickly erased when Buffalo went on a run of their own. Brandon Robinson scored the first of three straight Bandits goals that would ultimately knot the score at eight. The score remained tight through the half, as at the game's midway point the scoreboard read 10-10.

"It was 10-10, so we just treat it like a 0-0 game," Bandit Ian MacKay said. "Obviously we weren't our best to start the game, we knew that, and they came out hot. We were lucky to be at 10-10 at half."

Ian MacKay and Joe Post. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 The Point

An active first half was reversed in the third quarter when no players found the back of the net for almost 10 full minutes. A pair of Knighthawks power play goals, both assisted on by Ryan Lanchbury, were the period's only scores. This set Rochester up with the lead when the fourth quarter began.

"I think that's why they're the champs, because they know how to kind of turn that switch," Hasen said.

MacKay ripped one across the turf and past Hutchcraft with just over three minutes gone in the fourth to begin what wound up being the final run of this rematch.

Josh Byrne scored two goals separated by 24 seconds as part of five unanswered goals for the Bandits that put them in the driver's seat 15-12. The Bandits' physicality outlasted that of Rochester and ultimately amounted to a win.

"It was tough for us to get into a rhythm in the third," Byrne said. "Coming into the fourth, we knew as long as we stayed out of the box and kept moving the ball, we were going to get great opportunities."

Josh Byrne with an official. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 The Point

Rochester will get another crack at Buffalo in three weeks when they face off at KeyBank Center. The Knighthawks' next game will be on January 27th in Halifax where they'll take on the Thunderbirds. That game is set for 7 p.m. The Bandits return home to host the New York Riptide next Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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