By Tom Gallagher
Niagara Gazette — For the 10th time this season, the Buffalo Bandits came up short.
Only this time, they saw their season come to an end, rather than one of their many comeback attempts.
The Bandits failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002 when they lost to the Rochester Knighthawks, 10-9, in a do-or-die season finale Saturday night at the First Niagara Center.
“It was our own doing, so it won’t sit well,” Bandits’ coach Darris Kilgour said.
A win would have propelled the Bandits into the postseason despite enduring the effects that a mid-season six-game losing streak had brought forth.
“I wish I could have done a better job in the middle of the season and found some way to shake things up and get a win throughout that six-game losing streak,” Kilgour said. “Obviously that was the downfall of our season.”
Buffalo (6-10) trailed 10-8 when Mark Steenhuis scored his second goal with just 14 seconds left, but the Bandits’ attempt at a comeback died on their final possession when captain John Tavares’ pass was intercepted.
“(Tavares) went for a skip pass and sort of made a read,” Kilgour said. “He didn’t see the guy stepping back down on the play. It worked out the way it did. It’s unfortunate that our season ended on that play.”
The teams played to a first-quarter 4-4 tie before the Knighthawks began to take over. Buffalo managed to score just three goals over the next two quarters. Kilgour attributed the team’s lack of offense after the opening frame to not adjusting to what the Knighthawks (8-8) were doing defensively.
“We tried to force it to the middle and that’s what they do, they plug the middle and force the outside shots,” Kilgour said. “For some reason we just didn’t want to take them.”
The Knighthawks went on a six-goal run to take control and never looked back, despite Buffalo’s late-game push. Kilgour praised Rochester.
“Kudos to them,” Kilgour said of the defending NLL champions. “They’re a good team. Their record isn’t what that team is and I think they showed that last year. I expect them to make a deep run this year.”
Aaron Wilson led all Bandits with seven points, including five assists. Leading scorer Shawn Williams and Mark Steenhuis each finished the game with two goals and a pair of helpers. Steenhuis registered his 700th career point on a goal by Wilson in the first.
Buffalo went 4 for 6 on the power play and won the loose ball battle, 70-54. The Bandits turned it over 30 times to the Knighthawks’ 22.
Kurtis Wagar got the start in net for Buffalo. He made 22 saves. Usual starter Anthony Cosmo suffered a head injury in a loss two weeks ago against Minnesota.
“Wagar played really well and made some big stops,” Kilgour said. “We just made a couple of really big mistakes and gave them some good opportunities to score some goals.”