Trailing 11-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Rochester Knighthawks (6-0) scored five straight unanswered goals over a six-minute span on their way to closing out a 15-12 win over the Buffalo Bandits (4-2) in a battle between the NLL’s top two teams Friday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena.
By winning their franchise-best sixth straight, the Knighthawks remain in first place in the National Lacrosse League’s Eastern Conference standings.
Second-year pro Ryan Smith posted a game-high nine points on a career-high five goals and four assists while Holden Cattoni (3+4) and former Bandit Connor Fields (3+5) both turned in a hat trick for Rochester. Thomas Hoggarth (2+3), Curtis Knight (1+3), Matt Gilray (1+1), and Brad Gillies (0+2) all had multi-point games. Turner Evans, Mitch Ogilvie, Austin Hasen, and Tyler Halls each notched one assist apiece.
With tonight’s win, the first in franchise history over Buffalo, Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen tied legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time in the NLL with 93 career coaching victories.
Goaltender Rylan Hartley maintained his perfect record to begin the season as he improved to 6-0. The netminder, who has started all six games this season, finished with 44 saves.
Buffalo’s leading point-getters, Josh Byrne (4+4) and Dhane Smith (4+2), both topped all Bandits with four goals each while Ian MacKay (1+2) and Kyle Buchanan (0+3) tallied three points. Joel Tayler (1+1) and Brad McCulley (1+1) each registered a goal and an assist. Dylan Robinson (1+0), Nick Weiss (0+1), Steve Priolo (0+1), and Brandon Robinson (1+0) all chipped in with one point.
Eight-time NLL All-Pro First-Team selection and veteran netminder Matt Vinc (4-2-0) made his sixth start of the season but was dealt with the loss, his second of the slate. By playing 12 plus minutes tonight, Vinc became the first goaltender in league history to play over 14,000 minutes in the crease.
The first quarter was, as expected, a goaltending duel between the young Hartley and the veteran Vinc as the netminders combined for 15 saves through the first half of the first quarter with the eight-time NLL Goalie of the Year surviving a barrage of shots from the Knighthawks.
Hartley was also equal to the task, including a point-blank range save on a grade-A chance from Tehoka Nanticoke just minutes into the contest.
Buffalo, however, would eventually solve Hartley midway through the opening frame with the first of two from McCulley, who found an opening on the right side to put the Bandits up 1-0 at 7:16.
The Bandits then rattled off two quick goals 26 seconds apart to take a 3-0 advantage beginning with MacKay corralling a Weiss rebound off the end boards and stuffing it into the open net from atop the crease. Dhane Smith then followed suit, converting on a long range shot that found its way through traffic and through the legs of Hartley.
Rochester wouldn’t go away quietly, however, as Hoggarth put the Knighthawks on the board in the final two minutes of the opening frame. Setting up on the left side of the field, the former Bandit zipped a shot over the left shoulder of Vinc for his 12th goal of the season to bring the first quarter to a close.
The second quarter proved to be a more offensive battle as the two teams combined for nine goals, including a three-goal run for each side.
Trailing 3-1 entering the second quarter, Rochester allowed a quick strike by Byrne just 1:18 in, but flipped the script with three straight, including back-to-back tallies by Smith. Smith’s first came on the power-play at 13:04 before netting his second just 63 seconds later on a seemingly innocent floater that somehow eluded Vinc and found the upper corner.
Knight then knotted the contest at 4-4 off the rush at 11:17 with assists from Cattoni and Fields.
After Tayler and Fields exchanged goals, the Bandits went on their second three-goal run of the contest to take an 8-5 lead into halftime. Dhane Smith recorded his second of the night after using a burst of speed to shake off a Knighthawks defenseman on a goal-line dash from the near corner. Brandon Robinson added his eighth of the season 46 seconds later before Byrne, who opened the scoring in the frame, closed it out with his second of the night.
Despite facing another three-goal deficit, Rochester emerged from the break with a purpose, scoring three straight on its way to outscoring the Bandits 5-3 in the third quarter. Smith completed the hat trick at 7:44, his third in his last four games, before Fields and Gilray found the back of the net 32 seconds apart to knot the score at 8-8.
Smith countered for Buffalo at 4:41, but goals from Cattoni and Smith would give the Knighthawks their first lead of the night, 10-9, at the 3:51 mark. The lead was short-lived, however, as Byrne and Smith, the league’s top two-point getters, converted in the closing minutes of the third to put the Bandits in front 11-10 going into the final frame.
Rochester opened the fourth quarter on a five-goal run to seal the win with goals from Fields, Smith, Hoggarth and a pair from Cattoni.
RYAN SMITH HAD HIMSELF A KNIGHT! pic.twitter.com/8ZArqxX8rY
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) January 21, 2023
Byrne added his fourth with 1:47 remaining, but the Bandits were unable to close the gap.
The Knighthawks fly north of the border in search of their seventh straight win on Friday, Jan. 27 when they take on the Halifax Thunderbirds at Scotiabank Centre. The 6 p.m. ET matchup will be the first of two scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.