TORONTO – The Buffalo Bandits couldn’t have been happier about beating one of their biggest rivals on Thursday night.
Any win over the Toronto Rock is appreciated by those in Banditland, especially one of the thrilling, come-from-behind variety. But when it tightens up the race in the East Division, it more than doubles the pleasure.
Buffalo defeated Toronto, 15-13, in Air Canada Centre to move to 5-3 in the final game of the season’s first half. Instead of trailing the Rock by 2½ games, the Bandits are only a half-game back of Toronto (6-3).
What’s more, Buffalo could move into a tie for first tonight when it plays Philadelphia in First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
“This is just the first game of the weekend,” Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. “But anytime you get a win in Toronto, it’s a real happy experience.”
The win was all the more impressive because it was all so unexpected. The two teams had played an even first half, more or less, as the Bandits led by a relatively meaningless 6-5 margin after 30 minutes.
But after giving up an early second-half goal, Toronto had the better of its play for most of the third quarter. The Rock had a 6-2 margin in goals for that 15-minute period, and had an 11-8 lead after three quarters.
“In the third quarter, we got running around on defense. We panicked a bit,” Kilgour said.
Just when it looked like the Rock was ready to make a statement that it deserved to have the best record in the league, the Bandits stormed back. They scored the first five goals of the fourth quarter to take the lead for good, and eventually finished with a 7-2 edge for the period. Buffalo hadn’t outscored an opponent by five goals in a period since 2009.
“It’s a game of runs,” the Bandits’ Jay Thorimburt said. “We wanted to keep on an even keel and stay out of the penalty box.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of the game from a Buffalo standpoint was just how many people played a key role in the victory. The list starts with Thorimburt, who lit up the score sheet. He was an amazing 25-6 on faceoffs, which has to be one of the best percentages by a Bandit in recent memory.
“Jay was unbelievable,” Kilgour said. “He won almost every faceoff, he scored two goals. When he plays like that, it gives us a big, big advantage.”
John Tavares added, “That’s probably the best game I’ve ever seen him play.”
Thorimburt wasn’t the only defensive player to contribute on offense. Scott Self, Jimmy Purves and Billy Dee Smith all scored goals.
“We switched up our defense a couple of weeks ago,” Thorimburt said. “We’re not running around as much on defense, and that makes it easier for us to break down the field when we get the chance.” On offense, Shawn Williams had four goals and three assists for seven points.
Meanwhile, Tavares came off the injured list to score three goals, including an empty-netter, and three assists. It was as if he hadn’t been sitting on the sidelines for a month.
“You can’t get in game shape in a night after sitting for a month,” Tavares said. “You didn’t see my huffing and puffing out there.”
Aaron Wilson had two goals and three assists on a night when eight different Bandits scored goals.
“We have more depth than most teams,” Tavares said. “I said before the season, I don’t want to score 40 goals. I want to score 20 goals and have everyone else contribute. That’s how you make championship teams.”
Now comes another test - a second game within 24 hours. Opinions seemed split on whether that was a good idea.
“I’ll leave it to the coaches, and see how I feel,” Tavares said. “I want to play. Sometimes my competitive nature takes over. But I felt way out of shape.”
“I like it. It keeps you in the flow of it,” Thorimburt said. “The team that plays the night before has a better winning percentage. You’re tired but you just keep going.”…
The Bandits shuffled their roster a bit for the game. Tracey Kelusky went on injured reserve with a rib injury suffered against Rochester almost two weeks ago. Mat Giles played in his first game of the season, and defenseman Mike McNamara was back in action after missing three games with an injury. Hayden Smith and Kevin Brownell were released, while Craig England went on the physically unable to perform list. Jon Harasym, Mike Hominuck and Carter Bender were scratched.
Garrett Billings had four goals and four assists to lead Toronto.