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Live Blog from Rochester: Bandits vs. Knighthawks

6:48 p.m. -- Greetings from Rochester, where if you listen carefully, you can hear the cheering all the way from Syracuse over the Orange's win over top-ranked Louisville. (Spoken like a graduate, as you might have guessed.)

And speaking of orange ... the Bandits are ready to play Game Three of their season against the Knighthawks. Buffalo split last weekend's games, and now have to play their biggest rival. Just to add a little drama, the Knighthawks will raise the banner from last season's championship before the game. That means the big question is ... what time will the game actually start? My bet is 7:50, but no wagering please.

Mike Hominuck will be in the lineup tonight, as he finally gets his chance to play. Jon Harasym will sit out. Harasym was given a two-game suspension from the league earlier this week, but he has appealed and was eligible to play today. Nick Cotter will sit as well this evening, while Hayden Smmith stays in the lineup. 

Speaking of debuts, Casey Powell is in the Rochester lineup. He missed the opener, a loss in Washington. Powell is a former MVP in the league, the only-American born one if memory serves. He took last year off.

Anthony Cosmo gets the start tonight in goal. He's been pulled in the last two games. It would be easy to say that the Bandits need Cosmo to be in form, but at least Kurtis Wagar has done well in relief roles in the past two games.

7:06 p.m. - Mike Accursi is something of a surprise scratch for the Knighthawks. Cosmo and Matt Vinc are the starting goalies.

7:23 p.m. - The game is supposedly on Time Warner Cable Channel 25 back in Buffalo tonight. So feel free to check out the game that way (but leave the computer on!).

7:36 p.m. - The banner is in the rafters. Last year's captain and ex-Bandit Pat McCready carried the trophy on to the field.

7:46 p.m. -- The game is underway. Wonder who won the pool?

7:57 p.m. - The Bandits are the team that look inspired by the banner-raising. They scored the first three goals and lead, 3-1. Luke Wiles scored the 200th goal of his career. Casey Powell got one for Rochester.

8:14 p.m. - Turning point? Bandits had a goal waved off with a crease violation with 5 seconds left. Knighthawks scored with 1.1 seconds left in the quarter. We're done with 15 minutes all tied at 3. In other words, Buffalo now has nothing to show for its good start.

8:25 p.m. - Casey Powell just had an apparent goal wiped out. Then moments later John Tavares scored to put Buffalo ahead by 5-4. It's turning into an interesting night at the office.

8:30 p.m. - In case you are curious, it seems like there are fewer Bandits fans here than normal. There are still many such fans here. And if you thought a banner-raising game would be a sellout (guilty), you'd be wrong. Plenty of seats open in the corners.

8:40 p.m. - Aaron Wilson finishes a 4-on-2 break to put Buffalo up, 7-6. We have 3:10 left in the half.

8:46 p.m - Casey Powell's goal in the final seconds moves Rochester into a 7-7 at the half. Interesting that Rochester has never led.

9:06 p.m. - Cory Vitarelli has put the Knighthawks ahead for the first time. Naturally, as I type that, the Bandits tie it at 8-8.

9:15 p.m. - Dan Dawson's stuff shot has given Rochester the 9-8 lead. Meanwhile, Philadelphia scored four straight goals and leads Toronto by one with four seconds left. It's going to be a fun year. (Update, Philly does win the game.

9:25 p.m. - As we wait for a challenge no-goal call to be ruled upon, the Bandits have a 10-9 lead ... which disappears when a Brad Self goal is allowed. So we're tied with 2:36 left in the quarter. Last goal wins?

9:30 p.m. - Knighthawks have an 11-10 lead after three quarters.

9:39 p.m. - Putting Mike Hominuck into the lineup is a good idea. He has three goals; that matches his total of last season. We're tied, 11-11, with 9:17 to go.

9:50 p.m. - Rochester up, 13-12, with 3:43 left.

10:05 p.m. - Bandits win, 14-13, on Kelusky goal with 10 seconds left and one on the shot clock. Amazing game.

11:26 p.m. - Quite a finish. Kelusky's goal was a behind-the-back effort, a technique that fooled goalie Matt Vinc. As Darris Kilgour said after the game, "It was not the way we drew it up."

Still, the Bandit moved to 2-1 on the young season and get a big win over the defending champion in their building. The full story should be posted soon on our website. So, good night from Rochester.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Thomas Vanek

(Born January 19, 1984) -- How many chances do Sabres fans get to pretend they are scouts for their favorite team? The story of Thomas Vanek presented that opportunity.

Vanek was born in Austria, and he moved to the United States at the age of 14. Vanek finished high school and moved on to the University of Minnesota. There he helped the Golden Gophers reach the Frozen Four ... which was played in Buffalo.

Vanek was considered one of the top scorers in the nation, and local fans knew that he’d be a great fit in Buffalo. So they were pleased when the Sabres grabbed him in the 2003 Entry Draft.

The winger agreed to a three-year deal in 2004 after spending another season in college. A year in the minors didn’t hurt, as Vanek scored 42 goals for Rochester in 2004-05.

He arrived in Buffalo in the fall of 2005, and scored 25 goals as a rookie. He’s been a fixture here ever since, signing a rich contract in 2007.  Vanek was coming off a 43-goal season at that point. He’s had at least 48 points in every NHL season to date.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Sunshine Millions highlights big weekend at Gulfstream

By Gene Kershner

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Gulfstream Park is the place to be in thoroughbred racing this weekend, not only is it hosting the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards, but a hearty Sunshine Millions card is on tap on Saturday afternoon.

I’ve arrived in the Sun Belt to emcee a fan-based awards brunch on Sunday morning, which will feature trainer Nick Zito, champion handicapper Michael Beychok and former jockey and current NBC track reporter Donna Barton-Brothers. Ms. Brothers also is currently the COO of Starlight Racing, the stable most likely to receive 2-year-old colt champion honors on Saturday night for the efforts of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby.

As for the racing, the Millions card features a number of intriguing horses starting at the first race where the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice (8-5) will make his first 3-year-old start in a 7-furlong optional claimer. The Curlin colt won impressively at the Spa last summer and retains the services of Eclipse finalist Javier Castellano in the saddle.

The Sunshine Millions portion of the card gets underway in the fifth race with the Filly and Mare Sprint, featuring another Pletcher favorite, R Holiday Mood (8-5), a graded stakes winner who comes off the long layoff. She’ll be challenged by two sharp fillies, Golden Mystery (9-5) and Grade 1 winner Emma’s Encore (5-1), both of whom have past success on the Gulfstream track.

Watch the early races on the card, as the Gulfstream strip can be prove to be a very fast track favoring speed horses. It’s been known to be supped up on big race days so be sure to keep an eye on whether a track bias develops.

I attended Millions day three years ago and I remember that favorites ruled the day, especially those who have fared well at Gulfstream in the past. Romacaca (9-5), the favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf is a horse that fits that bill. She’s 10-5-2-0 at Gulfstream lifetime and enters winning three of her last four, the only blemish a dismal performance in the Grade 1 Beverly D on Arlington Million day.

Hoping it isn’t all chalk on Saturday and possibly the Sunshine Millions Sprint may render an upset. Close It Out (10-1) boasts the speed and has handled Gulfstream and has won at the 6-furlong distance, hitting the board in eight of nine attempts at the distance. In a start two races back he defeated 5-2 favorite Bahamian Squall, so he has proven he can handle the class of his competition.

Wondering who trains the favorite in the Turf? Once again, it’s the omnipresent Pletcher who sends out Doubles Partner (8-5) to head up a field of eight horses going 9-furlongs over the Gulfstream turf course. I had trouble finding any horse in this race that could challenge. Slew’s Answer is coming off a long layoff, Bad Debt and Picou could rival the favorite, but just don’t appear fast enough. Teaks North has back class and Hall of Famer Johnny V aboard, but his latest efforts are less to be desired.

The feature race of the day, the Sunshine Millions Classic, is not short on star power. Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man (6-5) will be the heavy favorite over Ron The Greek (8-5) and Fort Loudon (4-1). Fort Loudon mostly ran in sprint races during his 11-race 3-year-old campaign and will stretch out for the first time since last year’s Florida Derby. Ron The Greek was the only horse to defeat likely 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan last year.

The Classic will most likely crown the handicap horse looking to build a foundation for a solid start to the 2013 season.  Attracting those top horses should provide patrons with a great finale to a decent card of racing at the Hallandale Beach track.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dean Kennedy

(Born January 18, 1963) -- This veteran hockey player went by his middle name instead of his first name. If he hadn’t, the Sabres would have had Edward Kennedy on the blue line.

The defenseman was born in Saskatchewan and played his junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings kept him out West by making him a second-round draft choice in 1983.

It took a little while, but Kennedy finally arrived in the NHL in 1985. He was a classic defensive defenseman, getting a career-high six goals in 1986-87.

Kennedy moved on to the Rangers in 1989, but didn’t stay there long as he went back to the Kings. He landed with the Sabres in October, 1989, for a draft choice and stayed two years here. In 1989-90, Kennedy was part of a team that compiled one of the best regular season records in the league, but the Sabres were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Kennedy went to Winnipeg in a seven-player trade in 1991, but promptly hurt his knee and missed most of the season. He stayed a Jet for three years, and ended his career with the Oilers in 1994-95.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Derek Plante

(Born January 17, 1971) -- For someone who had injury problems, Derek Plante had a long and worthwhile career playing hockey. In fact, his association continues today.

Plante was drafted by the Sabres in 1989 out of high school, but the Cloquet, Minn., native opted to go to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was good enough there (92 points as a senior) to make sure that the Sabres kept watching him, and the center signed with Buffalo for the 1993-94 season.

As a Sabre he became the team’s second-line center after an injury to Pat LaFontaine. Plante stayed on the roster from there, and was the answer to a trivia question: who was the leading scorer on the Sabres’ 1996-97 division-winning team? His overtime goal in Game Seven against Ottawa that year will never be forgotten.

But back troubles started to catch up with Plante. He was traded to the Dallas Stars during the 1998-99 season. Ironically, he won a Stanley Cup ring that year for the Stars, who beat Buffalo in the finals. His days as an NHL player ended shortly after that.

Plante then headed to Europe and Asia to play for several years. He came back across the pond for good after that, but the hockey bug hadn’t left. Plante became an assistant coach for his alma mater, and helped it win a national championship.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jimmy Collins

(Born January 16, 1870) -- Jimmy Collins is one of Buffalo’s favorite sons when it comes to baseball. His career in the game was a success on many levels.

Collins was born in what is now called Niagara Falls and raised in the area. After high school (St. Joe’s) he is said to have landed a job with a railroad, and he played a little baseball in his spare time. That led to a spot on the Buffalo Bisons in 1893, and he was good. After 1894, the Bisons sold his contract to Boston.

Collins became the starter there in 1895, and hit .346 two years later. In 1898 he led the National League with 15 home runs while playing a great third base. In fact, before he came along shortstops had to charge in on bunts, so it could be said that Collins revolutionized fielding play.

Collins jumped to the new Boston team in the American League in 1901, and continued to be a standout. He also managed the team, and made history when he guided Boston to a World Series title - the first ever - in 1903. Collins moved on to Philadelphia in 1907, and retired after the 1908 season.

Collins returned to Buffalo and worked for the Buffalo Parks Department. He died in 1943 and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna. He just missed his selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which came in 1945.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Ernie DiGregorio

(Born on January 15, 1951) -- Let’s think of Ernie DiGregorio as the “comet” of the Buffalo Braves. He appeared after a time, displayed some brilliance and inspired awe, and then faded to black.

“Ernie D” was a great story for a while. He came out of North Providence High School, winning a state championship in 1968. That earned him a ticket to Providence College, where it was a true case of a hometown boy making good. DiGregorio was brilliant for the Friars, helping them reach the Final Four and setting off a bidding war for his services when he was ready to turn pro in 1973.

The Braves won that competition, and DiGregorio settled in as a starting guard right away. He was the trigger man for such players as Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith on the fast break, showing his tremendous ballhandling skills on a nightly basis. Buffalo made the playoffs that year, and DiGregorio was the NBA’s rookie of the year.

It looked like he’d be even better in 1974-75, but he suffered a serious knee injury early in that season. Thanks to Seventies medical techniques, he was never the same player. DiGregorio stayed through 1977, and was traded to the Lakers. From there it was on to the Celtics, where his last NBA game was the Braves’ last NBA game in the spring of 1978.

DiGregorio eventually ended up working at a casino in Connecticut, and some of his awards are on display. Hopefully he still has a parade of people telling him how much fun he was to watch when he was at his peak.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits video: The Hidden Ball trick

The play of the year already has been recorded by the Bandits ... even though it hinged on a mistake by the official.

Take a look at the video from Friday night. Luke Wiles quietly hands the ball to John Tavares, and then acts like he still has the ball. Meanwhile, John Tavares comes down the right side without anyone paying attention to him. Tavares even gets a little greedy in moving closer to the goal before scoring. I sure was fooled, just like announcer John Gurtler, and I knew it was coming at some point because I was watching a replay of the whole game on YouTube: 

The NLL says the official should have indicated the position of the ball when play started up. Not the Bandits' fault, though.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Rich Kilgour

(Born January 14, 1969) -- It’s not easy to carve out a name in the sports world when your brother has had a successful career in the same sport. Yet Rich Kilgour had done exactly that over the years.

Rich and brother Darris grew up in Niagara County and went to Niagara-Wheatfield High School. Rich finished playing lacrosse there in 1990, and wondered how much longer he’d get to play the game.

No matter what he guessed at the time, it was low. Rich stayed for 18 seasons, winning four championships along the way. Rich Kilgour wasn’t the scorer that Darris was, but he did do a lot of the dirty work – taking faceoffs, grabbing loose balls, etc. The veteran retired after the 2009 season.

Kilgour started life after playing as a coach in the college ranks, but the call of the Bandits proved irresistible. He landed an assistant coaching spot with Buffalo, working with his brother the head coach. Rich remains in that capacity to this day, and is known as much for his good nature as his knowledge of the game.

Kilgour has spent much of the past couple of years receiving honors. The Bandits have retired his jersey number, the National Lacrosse League has placed him in its Hall of Fame, and he’s a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Kent Hull

(Born January 13, 1960) -- The media had a running joke during the Bills’ Super Bowl years in the early 1990s. They’d talk to stars like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith first, because those players were always part of the story. Then they’d head over to Kent Hull’s locker, and find out from him what exactly happened in that day’s game.

Hull grew up in Mississippi and went to Mississippi State. From there the offensive lineman went over to the United States Football League, where he was a starter for the New Jersey Generals for three years. When the USFL folded, Kelly was the Bills’ major addition ... but Hull turned out to be a huge part of the team in the years to come.

He moved right into the starting lineup and stayed there for the rest of his career. The Bills went to a famous no-huddle offense along the way, and relied on Hull to call out assignments along the way. It was an important duty, and Hull did it as well as it could be done.

Hull stayed through 1996, and made three Pro Bowls. The down-to-earth center probably took more pride in those four Super Bowl appearances, though. When it was time to retire, he quietly packed his bags and headed back to Mississippi.

Hull received all sorts of honors after his career was over, including his selection as one of the few to go on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. His death in 2011 at the age of 51 was shocking. Everyone who knew Hull said while he was an excellent player, Hull was a much better person.

--- Budd Bailey

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