January 14, 2012 - 7:04 PM
6:56 p.m. -- We're back.
It's a new season for the Buffalo Bandits, as they start the 2012 campaign tonight in the First Niagara Center. (Wonder how long it will take me to call it HSBC Arena, or Marine Midland Arena, or the Aud.) The Bandits take on the Toronto Rock in the opener.
This game represents something of an opportunity for the Bandits. Toronto has already lost its first game, a defeat at home to Calgary last week. If Buffalo wins tonight, it would take a game and one-half lead over the Rock, and the season would only be a few hours old from a Bandits' standpoint. You couldn't ask for much better of a start.
The scratches for the game have been announced, and there was one surprise. Tom Montour won't be in the lineup. Montour is quite a weapon in the transition game, so it's easy to wonder if anything is going on there. Frank Resetarits and Roger Vyse are the other scratches. I would suspect that coach Darris Kilgour will go through several forwards during the course of the early part of the season, as he looks for a good combination. That would include players like Brenden Thenhaus and Kyle Clancy, who currently are not on the active roster.
Mike Thompson is slated to be the starting goalie tonight. It's our first look this evening at new Bandits like Jeff Cornwall, Luke Wiles, Mat Giles, Kevin Buchanan, Jeremy Thompson, and Kyle Sweeney.
Toronto has lost goalie Bob Watson to retirement. Matt Roik will start in goal this evening.
7:24 p.m. -- First time I've heard bagpipes since May. Must be time for the opening faceoff. There is a bit of a buzz in the building; I'm told that's in contrast to recent Sabre games. Looks like we'll have 16,000 or so here for the game.
7:45 p.m. -- We're off to a fast start. The Rock scored the first goal of the game, and could have been up by a few had it not been for some friendly goal posts. Buffalo answered with a couple of goals, including one by Steve Priolo -- the first of his NLL career. If you had him in a goal-scoring pool, you are the surprise winner. There's 8:33 left in the first quarter.
8:00 p.m. -- Toronto scored two goals within nine seconds to retake the lead, 3-2. Then Chad Culp responded on a delayed penalty to tie things up again at 3-3 after the end of the first quarter. Hasn't much to choose between the teams so far.
8:11 a.m. -- It didn't take long for John Tavares to score his first goal of the season. He tied the game at 4-4 after Garrett Billings had given the Rock the lead earlier in the second quarter. There are about nine minutes left in the half. It's been an entertaining game to date. Can't say either side has had much of a problem getting the ball over the halfcourt line so far.
8:21 p.m. -- Toronto finally scored twice in a row to take a two-goal lead at 6-4. Dan Carey and Glen Bryan, a couple of unexpected sources, got the goals. Bryan took off on a long missed shot and turned it into a two-on-one. He waited for the right moment and beat goalie Mike Thompson.
We've seen quite a lot of Jimmy Purves tonight. He's a transition player who has only one previous NLL game to his credit.
8:28 p.m. -- Great goal by Kevin Buchanan cuts the Toronto lead to 6-5. Time to go on radio for my traditional opening-game, halftime interview.
8:52 p.m. -- Tracey Kelusky and Mark Steenhuis have put Buffalo back up, 7-6. The Bandits have come out hitting so far in the second half.
9:00 p.m. -- It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, and the back-and-forth nature of the game continues. Toronto scored two goals within 12 seconds to tie the game, and Buffalo answered with two goals within 11 seconds to back up, 10-8. Wow.
9:08 p.m. -- Toronto's Blaine Manning suffered a broken collarbone earlier in the game. He's out indefinitely. That's a huge loss for the Rock this season. He had 75 points in 2011. We're 10-8, Buffalo, after three quarters.
9:27 p.m. -- Buffalo is on a 5-0 run that has broken the game open, as the Bandits lead 13-8. Buffalo has a hat trick from Luke Wiles.
9:41 p.m. -- Bandits in charge, 14-10, with 35 seconds left.
9:43 p.m. -- And that's the way it ends up. Nice win by the Bandits, with lots of heroes. Off to the locker room.
11:34 p.m. -- The Bandits were quite happy after the game, as you might expect. Taking a game and a-half lead over Toronto already is a good way to start the season. Darris Kilgour threw most of the credit to goalie Mike Thompson.
"I thought he played one of the best games I've ever seen him play as a Bandit," he said. "Without him it would have been a completely different game."
Rochester and Philadelphia had a rough game tonight, and the Knighthawks came away with a 22-12 win. So much for wondering if Rochester would have enough offense. First place will be on the line when the Knighthawks and Bandits meet next week.
--- Budd Bailey