The NLL's newest rivalry could be between Calgary and Washington after the teams combined for 141 penalty minutes in the opening quarter Friday. The Roughnecks won 12-11. (Photo Credit: Richard Olson)
In recent years, the Buffalo Bandits’ rivalries with the Toronto Rock to the north and Rochester Knighthawks to the east were arguably the most intense in the NLL.
A bigger rivalry – and perhaps, more bitter one – is brewing out west between the Calgary Roughnecks and Washington Stealth.
Why is there bad blood? Consider that Calgary has never lost at the Comcast Arena, improving to 5-0 all-time with Friday’s hard-fought 12-11 win. Add in that Washington ended the Roughnecks’ 2011 season at the Scotiabank Saddledome in the West Division Final, denying the top-overall seeded Roughnecks a shot at the NLL title.
Before Friday’s opening draw, Calgary’s Geoff Snider and Washington’s Jeff Moleski hooked up in a fight. By the time the first quarter ended, there would be six more fights, including one that resulted in the ejection of the Stealth’s Paul Rabil, who was named Transition Player of the Week on Wednesday. High-scoring forwards Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff were also involved in scraps for the Stealth.
“We were fired up before the game, and anytime someone challenges your manhood, you just got to step up and pick up the slack and step forward as a team,” said Washington forward Brett Bucktooth.
The final tally on the scoresheet after the opening frame: 141 penalty minutes. The teams would combine for 21 after that.
Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym told Bryce Forbes of the Calgary Herald that the team discovered a lot about themselves.
“It wasn’t discipline at all, it was part of the game plan in terms of how we're going to approach the game – that we weren’t going to back down from anything. It was the defining moment, I think, in our season right now as to who we are as an identity,” Pym said. Read Forbes’ story by clicking here.
Lost amid the fighting was the fine play in net for both clubs.
Calgary rookie Frankie Scigliano made his NLL debut in the second quarter in place of Mike Poulin, and came away with the win after turning away 34 of 39 shots. Picked 18th overall in the 2011 NLL Entry Draft, Scigliano finished his pro indoor debut by absorbing Duch’s point-blank shot as time expired.
“Frankie was the man,” Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride told the Herald’s Forbes. “For a rookie to come in and have that much poise and composure and just a calming influence, it was amazing.”
Washington’s Tyler Richards, meanwhile, set a career-best with 59 saves. Speaking with Aaron Lommers of the Everett (Wash.) Herald, Stealth assistant coach Art Webster said that he hopes the remainder of the team match Richards’ energy.
“We ask him to do that every night and he does. He does a fantastic job,” Webster said. “We need that from the rest of the guys - maybe take a look at what he's doing and then grab some of that energy and do the same thing." Read Lommers’ recap here.
Year in and year out, the Bandits have been one of the league’s hallmark franchises. However, Buffalo is looking for answers after losing its fourth straight, 14-13 to the Philadelphia Wings on Sunday.
“If I knew (how to end the skid), we would have fixed it four games ago,” a frustrated head coach Darris Kilgour said. “We’re trying different things, but right now we’re not a smart team. When you’re not a smart team, teams can take advantage of it.”
Buffalo hasn’t dropped five straight in one season since March 6 - April 10, 1999 – John Tavares’ eighth season in the NLL. The 43-year-old Tavares’ game certainly doesn’t need any fixing. With a hat trick Sunday, the 10-time All-Star is tied for third in the NLL with 15 goals, including a league-best nine power-play markers.
The Bandits won’t play again until March 3, when West-leading Colorado visits the First Niagara Center.
The Wings became the first professional team in North America to have players wear jerseys with Twitter handles in place of their last names, and the new duds seemed to suit some players quite well. Dan Dawson had 10 points, including nine assists to move into the league lead with 27, and rookie Kevin Crowley ended a brief slump with four goals.
"We spent a lot of time this week talking about being aggressive. Our desire to win, our aggressiveness was there. This was a character win for us tonight,” Wings head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian told Kevin Cirilli of the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read Cirilli’s recap here.
The win pushed Philadelphia into a tie with Toronto for first in the East Division. The teams will meet Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre with the Wings trying to forget being blanked in the second half of a 15-6 loss to the Rock on Feb. 4 at the Wells Fargo Center.
In Minnesota, a goaltender controversy between two rookies may be looming.
On Friday, Tyler Carlson finished with 32 saves during the second-longest game in NLL history as the Swarm downed Edmonton 10-9 in overtime on a goal by Ryan Benesch after 72 minutees and 23 seconds of play. Not to be outdone, Evan Kirk stopped 46 shots in Sunday’s 9-6 victory over Rochester - the team’s first over the Knighthawks since 2008.
“It’s a great problem to have,” head coach Mike Lines said of his goaltending situation.
Whoever starts Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center will face the 5-0 Mammoth, who were idle this weekend.
Both of Minnesota’s beaten opponents bemoaned a lack of offense.
Rochester got two goals each from rookie Johnny Powless and Cody Jamieson, but only Pat McCready and Brad Self found the back of the net despite 52 shots on goal.
“It’s very frustrating,” Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen said. “When you only get two offensive guys scoring goals, that’s very frustrating. We didn’t shoot well.”
While Jamieson extended his goal-scoring streak to 14 games, Sunday’s output was a far cry from the three goals and six assists he had against the Swarm in Rochester’s 16-14 win on Feb. 4.
Derek Keenan’s Edmonton team opened a four-game road trip by scoring 16 goals on Jan. 28 to beat Washington. The Rush then needed two games to match that total, collapsing late in an 11-7 loss to Colorado on Feb. 4 followed by Friday’s defeat.
At 1-3, Edmonton is averaging 11.0 goals per game, but their losses have come by a total of six goals, including a pair of one-goal setbacks.
“It’s all about performance and on offense we have players that just aren’t performing,” Keenan, the club’s head coach and general manager, said Friday. “Nine goals in almost five quarters of lacrosse is not good enough and I’m tired of it. With the guys we have, there is no reason we shouldn’t be scoring more.”
Edmonton does have balanced scoring. Six players have at least five goals, led by Zack Greer’s seven.
The Rush will wrap up their trip Saturday night against the Roughnecks in the first “Battle of Alberta” matchup in 2012.