SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Will Sands, Connor O'Hara and the Bucknell offense was clicking again on Saturday, as the Bison outlasted Bryant 14-12 at the Track & Turf Complex in a game that featured numerous momentum shifts.
Sands posted his second straight eight-point game with three goals and five assists, and O’Hara turned in his second consecutive four-goal game to help the Bison improve to 2-0 for the third year in a row. Sean O'Brien also recorded a hat trick, Tommy Sopko had two goals and an assist, Reed Malas had one of each, and Matt Fedorjaka logged his first Bucknell goal in the victory.
Tom Kennedy scored three goals and Cam Ziegler had five assists for defending Northeast Conference champion Bryant, which fell to 1-1 on the season.
These two teams have played some nailbiters in recent years, with Bucknell winning each of the last three by a combined four goals. This one looked like it might be a Bison runaway in the early going, however, as Malas, Sands, O’Brien and O’Hara scored four straight goals in four minutes to give Bucknell a 5-1 lead.
The advantage would not last long. Bryant got one back late in the first quarter and then scored three goals in just 29 seconds early in the second period to make it a 5-5 game. But the Bison went back to the Sands-to-O’Hara combo to get the lead back for good.
In last week’s 11-9 win over Marist, Sands assisted on three of O’Hara’s four goals. The duo connected twice in a row here to put a stop to the Bryant run. Sopko’s unassisted marker just 31 seconds before halftime gave the Bison an 8-5 lead at intermission.
Bryant goalie James Werner made three saves in the opening minutes of the third quarter, which led to successive goals by Kennedy and Zach Coffey, reducing Bucknell’s advantage to 8-7. But the Bison defense buckled down, holding the Bulldogs scoreless for the next 14 minutes while going on another 4-0 run.
Sands fed O’Brien twice in succession, and O’Hara’s fourth tally of the day made it 11-7 after three quarters. The Bison lead went up to five goals for the first time in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. Bryant took the faceoff on a violation, but Matt Gilray forced a turnover, leading to a transition opportunity the other way. Short-stick defensive middie Duke Repko picked out Sands, who buried the shot for a 12-7 lead.
Bryant has a quick-strike offense thanks in large part to its stellar faceoff man Kenny Massa, making no lead safe against the Bulldogs. Fedorjaka and Sopko answered Bryant fourth-quarter goals to keep the margin at five.
Bryant rallied within 14-12 on Marc O’Rourke’s goal with 4:00 to play, but rookie goalie Ben Clark made two big saves down the stretch to help see out the victory.
Clark was strong in relief once again for the Bison. He allowed only two goals in 43 minutes against Marist last week en route to Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors, and he picked up his second win of the season after coming on in a 5-5 game in the second quarter. Clark fashioned eight saves, half of them coming in the fourth quarter, while allowing seven goals.
Bryant finished with a 41-36 shot advantage and a 19-11 edge in faceoffs, but the Bison made the most of their offensive possessions. The 14 goals were the team’s most since a 14-13 win at Delaware in last year’s season opener.
Sands already has 16 points (5G/11A) on the season, and with 184 career points he moved into a tie for fifth place with David Dickson on Bucknell’s career list. With 97 career assists, Sands is now just three shy of becoming the fifth Bison with 100 career helpers.
Next up for the Bison is a trip to Richmond next Saturday afternoon for a first-ever matchup against the Spiders.