NLL Notebook: Bandits Dance Like It's 2016; Thrillers in Saskatoon, San Diego

PHOTO BY SARA SCHMIDLE

Dhane Smith and the Buffalo Bandits clinched their first playoff appearance since 2016 with a thrilling win over the Saskatchewan Rush.


How fitting that the Buffalo Bandits clinched their first playoff appearance since 2016 the week they play the team they met in the championship finals that season. If we’re in for a rematch, let’s hope it’s as exhilarating as this week’s heavyweight bout in the Sasktel Center.

Buffalo held a 9-5 lead late in the third quarter, but a quick 6-1 Rush run gave Saskatchewan the advantage midway through the fourth.

The Bandits didn’t back down. Shawn Evans tied the game at 11 with a bit over two minutes remaining, setting up a second overtime game-winner of the year for athletic forward Chase Fraser.

Fraser dove from the back of the net while scooping up the ball in the crease, a move so stupendous the announcers, and likely many in the crowd, figured there must be a good chance he stepped in the restricted area. But no, Fraser stayed outside and airborne as he dunked a shot into the right side behind Rush goalie Adam Shute.

The Bandits enjoyed another post-game party in the locker room with their 11th win of the season, already a three-game improvement on last year. Thomas Hoggarth and Evans each had six points while Dhane Smith had five.

Seal of approval

The San Diego crowd saw an ending as thrilling as the one in Saskatchewan – but this time the home crowd left happy.

The Seals were down three goals entering the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, but a late spurt, featuring a stellar go-ahead goal from Austin Staats, propelled San Diego to victory and gave the Philadelphia Wings another late-game collapse to come to terms with.

Staats scored the eventual game-winner, the fifth goal in a 6-1 game-ending San Diego run, on a pass that likely wasn’t intended for him with a minute and 12 seconds left on the clock.

Casey Jackson threw a one-handed shovel pass while cutting toward goal line extended, and Staats extended his stick up to its maximum height to snag it. He bobbled the ball as he first tried to collect it, then gained control just in time to get off a shot to the top of the net while falling.

Turner Evans sealed the comeback with 28 seconds remaining.

“Not our best by any means, especially in the third quarter, but what an exciting finish for our fans,” Seals coach and general manager Patrick Merrill said. “Some guys stepped up and made some huge plays in the fourth quarter. We pulled one out.”

The goal and an assist on the Evans tally pushed Staats to five points on the night, while San Diego was led by five goals and two assists from Dan Dawson. Jackson also had three goals and three assists for the Seals, now 7-4 and a game up on the Rush for the first spot in the West.

Welcome to the mainstream

The Chris Boushy trade likely won’t end up as one-sided as John Tavares for Brian Nikula, but it looked it this weekend.

The Rochester Knighthawks acquired the 21-year-old forward from the Calgary Roughnecks in exchange for a fourth-round pick on March 7. This weekend he made the K-Hawks brass look like geniuses, going for a career-high seven goals in the team’s 15-14 loss to the Georgia Swarm on Friday.

“It was an amazing atmosphere tonight in the second half, and that really motivated me to produce,” Boushy told Knighthawks.com. “I touched the ball a lot today, and it was amazing to see veteran players have such a trust in me, a rookie.”

Of course, his performance was simply a silver lining in Rochester’s first of two losses this week. Georgia went ahead 12-7 in the first half and despite a five-goal run in the third to tie it, the Knighthawks weren’t able to take that final step in their comeback effort.

Shayne Jackson scored five times and dished out four assists and Lyle Thompson notched six points for the Swarm, who stayed a game back of Buffalo for the top spot in the East Division.

Toronto was able to control Boushy more successfully on Saturday, holding him to two goals and two assists in the Rock’s 15-13 victory at Scotiabank Arena. The game was close throughout, but one goal advantages in the first and second quarters were enough to give the Rock their eighth victory.

Tom Schreiber had a goal and five assists and six players recorded three points, including goalie Nick Rose. The win ended a two-game Rock losing streak.

“We knew what was on the line,” forward Kieran McArdle said. “We knew we had to get things back in the win column.”

Mammoth turnaround

Colorado snapped its three-game losing streak and dragged down the team the Mammoth are trying to catch with an 11-9 victory against the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday. Now a game and a half back of the Riggers, Colorado also gained the tiebreaker over their rival if necessary.

Eli McLaughlin and Kyle Killen each notched five points as the Mammoth rode strong second and third quarters to victory. Calgary got out to a 5-1 lead early, but the advantage wouldn’t last. Colorado responded with a four-goal run and went into the break tied at five.

Colorado went up two goals at the end of three and, despite a Roughnecks comeback, ended it with clutch goals from the night’s two biggest scorers.

Warriors keep up

Vancouver remained in a tie with Colorado thanks to a fifth game this season of Eric Penney allowing fewer than 10 goals. Mitch Jones had four goals and two assists as the Warriors earned a 12-9 victory against the New England Black Wolves, which played without suspended leading scorer Callum Crawford.

“A lot of credit goes to the guys in front of me,” Penney said. “We had guys like Ian Hawksbee getting down and blocking shots and Matt Beers dropping to a knee and getting in there – pretty soon I’m going to lose my job to one of my D-guys. They’re blocking shots like crazy.”

Joe Resetarits had a goal and two assists in his Black Wolves debut.







Week 15 Preview

Rock at Swarm
Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET

A battle between No. 2 and 3 in the East, and possibly a preview of a first-round playoff matchup thanks to the league’s new postseason format. Of course, both these still hope and likely believe they can catch Buffalo. This ends a three-game season series. Georgia won the first meeting and Toronto the second, with the Rock’s 14-9 victory on Jan. 18 being the more lopsided of the two.

Mammoth at Warriors
Friday, 10 p.m. ET

Warriors at Mammoth
Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

With the squads tied 12 games into the season, a sweep for either team could put an end to a to a fierce race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West. Vancouver won the first meeting, 11-10.

Rush at Seals
Friday, 10 p.m. ET

A real opportunity for the Seals, who have won three straight, to prove they have a legitimate shot at representing the West in the NLL Finals this year. Saskatchewan won the first meeting, 16-12, but that was back in January when San Diego was just starting to mesh.

Black Wolves at Wings
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

New England’s Crawford’s appeal for his one-game suspension was denied by an arbiter, causing him to miss this weekend’s game. The additional five-game suspension for being a repeat offender is still up in the air. Josh Currier had his best performance of the season for Philadelphia against the Seals, totaling seven points.

Rock at Bandits
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Buffalo has a chance to pull away from the Rock in the standings with a home-and-home over the next two weeks. While the Bandits are a game and a half up on their QEW rivals, the teams are tied in the loss column since Toronto has played three less games. The Rock won the first meeting, 17-12, thanks largely to a 7-2 advantage in the second quarter.

Roughnecks at Knighthawks
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

At this point, the Knighthawks season is all about seeing what the team has in the cupboard to bring to Halifax. Jake Withers is certainly a mainstay. He came one faceoff win away from the league’s single-game all-time record against Georgia. Dane Dobbie scored his 400th career goal this week for the Riggers.

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