Bandits bust Rush’s perfect record

Buffalo Bandits forward Vaughn Harris (28) carries the ball into the Saskatchewan Rush's zone during Jan. 19, 2018 NLL action from Saskatoon. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Buffalo Bandits kept grinding, and grinding, and grinding.

They eventually ground off enough of the Saskatchewan Rush’s lead that they tied the game 15-15 and sent it to overtime in Friday night National Lacrosse League play from Saskatoon.

By that point, Buffalo needed less than two minutes and a solitary shot from forward Pat Saunders to break the tie and win the game 16-15, thus ending the Rush’s perfect record to hand them their first loss on the season.

“It was a big character win for our guys,” Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour said after the game. “It was a great job by (head coach Troy Cordingley), who told the guys to ‘stick with it and don’t worry. It’s a long game and you’ve got a lot of time.’ And the guys bought in and took care of business.”

It was a tale of two halves for both squads. By halftime, the Rush were up 9-3 due in large part to solid goaltending from Evan Kirk and an explosive, six-goal first quarter.

Saskatchewan Rush goalie Evan Kirk fist-bumps his backup goalie teammate on the bench during a stoppage in play in the second half of Jan. 19, 2018 NLL action from Saskatoon. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The tables begun to turn in the third quarter, when the Bandits started slowing their game tempo and cycling the ball in the Rush’s zone; prior to that, they relied more on turnovers and fast-break opportunities with odd-man rushes.

After the third quarter, Buffalo narrowed their opponent’s lead; it was 12-8 for Saskatchewan heading into the fourth quarter.

Buffalo built on that momentum from the start of the final frame. The Bandits netted three consecutive goals within the quarter’s first three minutes to make the score 12-11.

The team’s eleventh score was a laser shot from the high slot area by forward Vaughn Harris, playing only his second game with the team. The goal sucked the life out of the packed SaskTel Centre.

“It took him a couple games to get going, and now he’s making the most of his situation … (he) was working hard all game. And then in the fourth quarter, he got a big goal and really got us going on the bench and got everyone feeling pretty confident again,” Kilgour said.

Buffalo Bandits transition player Liam Patten (37) tries to disrupt a pass intended for Saskatchewan Rush defender Matt Hossack during Jan. 19, 2018 NLL action from Saskatoon. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Saskatchewan captain Chris Corbeil also inadvertently helped the Bandits stay in the game until the end. At 13:23 he was assessed a holding stick penalty – what he described as hitting a Bandits player in the crease – to give the Bandits a powerplay.

Just over 30 seconds later, Craig England scored to pull Buffalo within one, making it 15-14. “My penalty is inexcusable. That’s me … that’s bad composure. You’re not allowed to hit a guy in the crease, and I did,” Corbeil said after the game.

With 19 seconds left in regulation and their net empty, the Bandits tied the game at 15 on Josh Byrne’s goal to force overtime. Saunders’ overtime winner was his first of the game on four total shots.

“You keep working hard over and over and over again, then good things are going to happen,” Kilgour said.

Corbeil said the Rush have struggled this year to finish teams when they have them down.

“We knew Buffalo was a team that was going to battle, and come back. And we kind of got a little complacent on offence, complacent on defence,” he said. “It was a tight one, and it bit us. We didn’t close out the game.”

Saskatchewan Rush defender Matt Hossack (94) carries the ball out of his zone during the second half of Jan. 19, 2018 NLL action from Saskatoon. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

“I think tonight for us, it was mental. I’ll go back to my penalty – that’s mental. You can’t hit a guy when he’s got the ball in the crease, and I did, and that was a stupid play.”

On the positive side of the loss, the Rush captain said it was a good reminder that his team may have needed.

“Any night in this league, any team can beat any other team … every team is so good, you can’t take a night off.”

The Rush (4-1) are now off for the next six days. They’ll next play on Saturday, Jan. 27 on the road against the Calgary Roughnecks (1-4).