Thunderbirds stage massive comeback to beat Bandits

Feb 17, 2024

(HALIFAX, NS) February 16, 2024 -- At one point in Friday night’s contest, the Halifax Thunderbirds were down by as much as six goals. But they clawed all the way back against the Buffalo Bandits, beating them 14-12 at Scotiabank Centre.

Clarke Petterson and Austin Shanks were pivotal in the victory, each finishing with identical two-goal, nine-point games. 

Ryan Benesch continued to light up the scoreboard in this game, posting yet another five-goal game and finishing with six points on the night. 

Aaron Woods (2G, 1A) and Dawson Theede (3G, 2A) also had big outings while Cody Jamieson’s three-helper night helped him reach 600 career assists. 

Jake Withers had another historic night, going a perfect 30-for-30 on face-offs while also having 30 loose balls. Withers surpassed Stephen Hoar for seventh all-time in NLL history for face-off wins during the game as well. 

Drew Hutchison earned his first victory of the season, coming into the game and 22 saves to help his team in a comeback effort. 

The game was a tale of two halves, with the first one largely controlled by the visitors. Chris Cloutier opened the score, and despite a quick answer from Ryan Benesch just over a minute later, Buffalo rattled off three more goals, from Dhane Smith, Kyle Buchanan, and Chase Fraser. 

Theede got his first of the evening to make it 4-2 Bandits after one quarter of play. 

Buffalo strengthened its advantage in the second quarter off the strength of a four-goal run. Fraser, Josh Byrne, Steve Priolo, and Smith doubled the Bandits’ goal total in a 10-minute span, putting the Thunderbirds down 8-2 with time dwindling going into the half. 

After seven goals, Hutchison was in the game in relief of Warren Hill, and the second-year man came up big when he was needed on the night. 

From that point, Halifax started to grind away at the lead, bit by bit. Shanks took advantage of a power-play opportunity, ripping a shot past Matt Vinc on the short side. Petterson was next up with a great individual effort, beating his man to the crease and sticking a diving effort home. Woods capped off the run by depositing his first of the night into the cage off a slick underhand feed into the middle from Petterson. 

Despite the 8-5 gap heading into the locker room, Halifax had pulled back some much-needed momentum in front of their home faithful. 

The Nest carried the Birds on in the second half, Benesch opened the scoring in the third quarter, beating Vinc on a low bouncer. Buchanan answered, but Shanks converted on another short-side shot on the power-play before Theede scored a ridiculous backhand twister going across the crease. Benesch completed his hat trick with one minute left in the frame with another power-play marker to knot the game at nine with a quarter left to play. 

With the game up for grabs, the two teams traded blows, looking for the victory. Byrne got the Bandits first blood in the opening minute of the fourth, but Petterson blew a shot home to tie things back up just over a minute later. Benesch, Cloutier, Theede, and Buchanan traded goals, keeping the game deadlocked at 12-12 heading into the final five minutes. But it was Woods, the rookie, playing the hero. He slipped underneath the defence in the two-man game, and he took a Petterson pass in stride and beat Vinc after a fake on top of the crease. 

17 seconds later, Benesch got the much-needed insurance goal, taking a Shanks pass and quick-sticking it far side while cutting through the middle of the floor. 

Halifax had to hold off the Buffalo attack for four minutes, and at every turn, Hutchison and the defence found a way to stymie the potent Bandits attack, helping seal the 14-12 victory at home. 

With the victory, the Thunderbirds have won four straight games and sit at 6-3 for the season. There’s no rest for the team, however, as they’re right back to work on Sunday in another crucial matchup, as they head West for a showdown with the Calgary Roughnecks at Scotiabank Saddledome. Opening face-off is set for 8:00 p.m. AT. 

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