O'Neill turns aside 56 shots Bandits blank Americans, 1-0

Lambert goal stands up in goalie's 2nd shutout

April 01, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- It's easy to overlook the contributions of Baltimore Bandits goalie Mike O'Neill.

O'Neill is a 28-year-old playing in a developmental league, and his name won't be found among the leaders in goals-against average or save percentage. Yet, he is the reason the Bandits beat the Rochester Americans, 1-0, last night, and he is largely responsible for any chance the team has of making, or succeeding in, the playoffs.

O'Neill kept the Bandits in the game, stopping 56 shots for his second shutout of the season. He got little help from his inexperienced and undermanned defense.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Mike is the MVP of the league," Bandits coach Walt Kyle said. "To me, it's a no-brainer. The guy is playing on a team with young, young defensemen. We've lost our top five defensemen [to injuries and call-ups]. Mike O'Neill has held the whole thing together and he's leading the league in wins. He's done a tremendous job. If we get in the playoffs, Mike O'Neill is the reason we got there."

Baltimore is tied with Syracuse in the Western Conference and four points ahead of Carolina for the last playoff spot, with a game in hand. The Bandits are on their first three-game winning streak of the season, having beaten the three winningest Western Conference teams in successive nights.

de 13 saves before the Bandits registered their first shot on goal and Baltimore mustered just 15 shots for the game. Rochester goalie John Blue could have played without equipment for the first 12 minutes of the game and it would not have have mattered. He didn't face a shot in that span.

O'Neill is accustomed to a heavy workload, though. He is on pace to set an American Hockey League record for games played in a season by a goalie, and he also leads the AHL in minutes played, saves, wins . . . . and losses.

"We have such a young team, they really look to the older guys for leadership," O'Neill said. "This was an important part in showing them how important this time of year is."

The Americans took a 16-3 advantage in shots into the first intermission -- defenseman David Cooper outshot Baltimore 4-3 -- but the scoreboard still read 0-0.

The Amerks mounted a 17-shot attack in the second period, and again O'Neill was up to the challenge. He left the crease to foil Wayne Primeau twice in the period, and when Barrie Moore waltzed through the crease with seven minutes left O'Neill poked the puck away, then dived back to keep it from crossing the goal line.

The Bandits' offense sputtered badly, but they cashed in on their only legitimate scoring chance.

Frank Banham, a recent arrival from the Western Hockey League, picked up his first AHL point by streaking past a falling Shayne Wright and putting the puck between Blue's pads. Denny Lambert crashed the net on the right side and tapped home the rebound late in the middle period.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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