Dhane Smith’s professional career is exactly two games old, and already he’s had a moment for the memory books.
Too bad he’ll have to rely on video to see how it looked.
Smith scored the game-winning goal with 4 minutes, 11 seconds left to lift the Buffalo Bandits to a 13-12 win over the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night.
With the score tied at 12-12, the Bandits’ first-round draft choice cut to the middle, high in the slot, in order to gain a step on a Minnesota defender, and let a hard shot go.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember,” he said. “I sort of closed my eyes and shot it. It went in.
“It was amazing. After my first goal, I was trying not to celebrate too hard for the next goal. But then the fans got into it, and I got into it. It was great.”
The fans, who numbered 15,238, let out a cheer that hadn’t been heard in the First Niagara Center in months, thanks to a lacrosse offseason and a hockey lockout. Smith had never played before so many people before; his previous high before this weekend probably was around 4,000 in Peterborough, Ont., in summer play.
“I looked up in the crowd, and everything was packed. It was a great feeling,” he said.
The goal was Smith’s third of the night — he also added an assist — and was a nice response to a debut on Friday that didn’t go quite as well as Saturday’s game did.
“He was pretty nervous,” Bandits’ coach Darris Kilgour said. “We had a good talk after that. ... He’s the future of the team. He’s going to be a tremendous player.”
The Bandits earned this victory the hard way. They weren’t sharp in a loss to Philadelphia on Friday, and they needed almost no time at all to fall behind, 3-0, in the first quarter. Kilgour pulled starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo for the second straight night in an effort to shake up the team. Backup Kurtis Wagar replaced him.
“Obviously I’m a backup guy who knows his role,” Wagar said. “Cosmo’s our guy. I was pretty surprised by the move, but I’m not going to say no.”
“We said, we’ve got to bail him out,” forward Chad Culp added. “It was not his [Cosmo’s] fault. We have to play better in front of him.”
Wagar’s task wasn’t helped by the fact that a problem that ruined the Bandits’ hopes of winning in Philadelphia on Friday popped up again. Jon Harasym took a five-minute major late in the first period that led to two quick Swarm power-play goals. Minnesota had a 5-2 lead at that point, and the Bandits needed to regain their composure in a hurry.
“We’re not being very smart,” Kilgour said. “Jon Harasym is a vet. He was in the offensive end and he’s not an offensive player. ... I gave it to Jon pretty good. But he’s a man. He can take it. He knew he was wrong to do what he did. After that we cleaned it up pretty good.”
The teams traded goals for the rest of the second quarter, as the Bandits seemed to settle down a bit. They were far from out of the game with an 8-6 deficit after 30 minutes.
Then the momentum of the contest started to change a bit.
“I felt it on the first shift. We dominated the first five minutes of the half,” Kilgour said.
Still, the Bandits had only a John Tavares goal to show for it. That was negated by a Jordan MacIntosh goal for Minnesota that was on the lucky side. When the Swarm made it 10-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Bandits seemed to be running out of time.
Suddenly, Buffalo found its offensive touch. Culp thought a little gametime together helped the many new faces on the roster blend together a bit better.
“We’ve got to play some games in order to see what people are doing together,” Culp said.
Buffalo scored four straight goals to take an 11-10 lead. Ryan Benesch answered with two of his four goals on the night — he also had three assists — to put Minnesota ahead. Then Culp scored his third goal with 4:34 left to tie matters. Once Smith won it, the Bandits killed off the final seconds to claim the victory.
“It’s not like they were dominating the game. It was like a see-saw,” Wagar said. “That’s a good win for us.”
“It was good to get this win. We didn’t want to start 0-2,” Culp said.
Next up for the Bandits is a road game against the Knighthawks. It will be played on Saturday night in Rochester.