By Aaron Garland
Niagara Gazette — There were no late-game heroics by the Buffalo Bandits this time. Inopportune penalties and shaky defense killed that chance.
The Bandits had won their last three games on late game-winning goals before falling to the first-place Toronto Rock, 14-12, last night in National Lacrosse League East Division action at the First Niagara Center. Buffalo (3-2) allowed at least 12 goals for the fifth straight game in their first home loss of the year, but it was two 5-minute major penalties that proved most crucial.
“I don’t know what to tell these guys to get them to understand that we can’t take penalties,” Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour said. “The two 5-minutes killed us tonight. … We just can’t do that stuff against this quality of a team.”
Despite the 16 penalty minutes that resulted in four power-play goals allowed, the Bandits were in the game until the final minute. And as the Bandits outshot the Rock (5-1), 58-45, Kilgour noted his team’s worst enemy was themselves.
“You look at the chances that we gave them, not that they earned, that we gave them, we win by two or three,” Kilgour said. “The good news is, that game’s on us. I thought we outplayed them for a good amount of time, but at the same time we just made too many mistakes mentally to overcome.”
Buffalo, forced to come back all night, closed to score to 11-9 at 4:32 in the fourth after a Mark Steenhuis goal. Toronto’s Damon Edwards took a 5-minute major of his own on the play, which opened up a great opportunity for the Bandits.
Shawn Williams — who led the Bandits with a goal and four assists — opened the power play with a goal to cut the lead to 11-10. The comeback attempt was halted there.
Midway through the power play Rock captain Colin Doyle scored as Buffalo’s Hayden Smith took a 5-minute high sticking penalty.
Doyle followed with the game-winner, as he finished with four goals and four assists. The Bandits were left with just under three minutes on the clock after Smith served his time and couldn’t muster any more late-game magic.
“I’m proud of the effort, but I’m not proud of the stupidity,” Kilgour said. “Clean those little things up and we can hold team to nine, 10 goals a game.”
Bandits’ rookie Dhane Smith opened the game’s scoring 1:32 in for their only lead of the contest. The crowd of 14,918 was largely silenced for the rest of the quarter, as Toronto netted the next four goals to close out the quarter.
League assists leader Garrett Billings dished out three helpers in that span, and finished with four in the game.
Any momentum that may have been strung from and early second period goal by Mike Hominuck was deterred by Bandits’ defenseman Billy Dee Smith less than two minutes later.
After the Rock’s Scott Evans scored during a delayed penalty call on Billy Dee Smith, he proceeded to slash Evans, prompting a 2-minute penalty. The initial call was a 5-minute illegal cross checking major, giving the Rock a 7-minute power play. They would take advantage.
Billings and Blaine Manning each scored to give the Rock their biggest lead of the night at 7-2. Upon returning from serving his penalties, Kilgour benched Smith for some time.
“Obviously, talking to him isn’t going to change him,” Kilgour said of Smith. “I’ve been talking to him for 11 years — I’m sick of it.”
Rock goaltender Nick Rose was peppered with 57 Bandit shots, and he turned away 45 of them. Buffalo’s Anthony Cosmo struggled, stopping just 32 of 46 shots.
Bandits’ captain John Tavares missed the game with a calf injury.