BUFFALO, N.Y. – In what was a tightly contested game from wire-to-wire, the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) Minnesota Swarm fell victim to a late rally by the Buffalo Bandits, losing a 12-9 heartbreaker on Saturday night at First Niagara Center.
After playing much of the fourth quarter at a 9-9 deadlock, Buffalo was able to rattle off three goals in a 1:19 span to stun the Swarm and leave with the home victory. Transition player Dhane Smith picked up what stood as the game-winner at 11:12, when he picked up the carom of a missed shot by Swarm F Callum Crawford and flew down the field, beating goaltender Zach Higgins on a breakaway to give the Bandits a 10-9 lead. A quick pair of goals by F Mark Steenhuis iced the game, sending the large crowd into a frenzy. Steenhuis led all scorers with six points (4g, 2a) on the night, none bigger than his final two.
“We battled hard early, we competed when we needed to, and then we let it slip away,” said Swarm coach Joe Sullivan. “Our guys all want to win, they are competitive so they get themselves jacked up and then they kind of settle in– for us we settled in too much.”
The late advantage was the Bandits’ only lead of the game, as Minnesota went toe-to-toe with the East Division leaders, holding a 9-8 edge into the game’s final stanza. The Swarm jumped out to early 2-0 and 6-2 leads in the first half, and were able to control play for large stretches of time throughout the game.
February’s NLL Rookie of the Month, F Logan Schuss (2g, 2a), got the Swarm on the board just 30 seconds into the game as he finished a feed by F Callum Crawford (4a). Crawford added another assist at the 3:10 mark of the first when he set up the first of F Josh Gillam’s three goals on the power play to build an early 2-0 lead. Gillam added an assist to his hat trick to bring his production to four points, firing a game-high 11 shots on the Buffalo cage.
Two goals 10 seconds apart by T Kiel Matisz (2g, 2a) in the waning stages of the opening quarter and another by Schuss spotted Minnesota a 6-2 lead early in the second; a lead they would see vanish as Buffalo was able to build a 4-0 run to tie the game 6-6 heading into halftime. Smith scored two goals during the rally, and finished with five points (3g, 2a).
“We’ve finished well the last couple of games but our starts have been slow,” said Gillam of his team’s early surge. “We really wanted to get out to a lead this game, and we came out and did that. Unfortunately we didn’t have the second half that we usually put together.”
Prior to the late push by Buffalo, the entire second half was played within a one-goal margin, which can be credited to the exceptional play by both goaltenders. Coming off of a rocky start in his last outing, Higgins was able to carry the Swarm defense on Saturday making 45 saves, including a handful of timely stops with the game tied. On the other side of the floor Buffalo’s Anthony Cosmo was equally brilliant, turning aside 46 shots en route to picking up his seventh win of the season. Buffalo held a slight 57-55 edge in shots-on-goal.
Swarm T Jordan MacIntosh (1g, 2a) provided the highlight of what was tight checking third quarter when he scored just six seconds in, winning the draw then racing down the floor to beat Cosmo. The tally was the fastest goal to start a quarter in the NLL since 2008. The teams traded goals twice the rest of the quarter, which ended with a late goal by T Tyler Hass to give Minnesota the lead heading into the fourth.
The Bandits improve to 7-2 in 2014 while the Swarm drop to 2-8, still looking to climb out of the basement in the East Division. Minnesota will have the opportunity to gain some ground at The Hive the next couple weeks, as they return to Saint Paul next Sunday against the Toronto Rock (4-6) before hosting the Bandits once again on March 23. Players and coaches alike know that the stakes are as high as ever entering the two-game stretch at Xcel Energy Center, where the Swarm have yet to win this season.
“It’s desperation time,” Gillam stated. “We really need to get some wins in the column and we’re going to do everything we can to prepare for [the couple of games].”
Next Sunday is additionally the Swarm's "Give-N-Go Gear Drive" in conjunction with the Gott To Lax Initiative. Fans are encouraged to bring cash or equipment donations to the Xcel Energy Center box office, all of which will benefit Gott To Lax.
A Minnesota Swarm game is something that has to be experienced live to be fully understood. Fans can get that experience in The Hive for as low as $22 for a lower-level seat. Fans looking to lock up pro-rated season packages can still take advantage of a special Buy 2, Get 2 25%-Off promotion for the remainder of the 2014 Season. Visit mnswarm.com or call 888-667-9276 for more information.