The Calgary Roughnecks struck first in the 2014 NLL Champion's Cup Finals with a 10-7 home win over the back-to-back champion Rochester Knighthawks in Game 1 of the series before 16,541 screaming fans at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night.
The Roughnecks played some of the best defense they have all season, holding Rochester to just seven goals. There has only been one other time this season that the ‘Hawks weren’t able to score more than seven.
“That doesn’t happen every week,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “That’s a testament to the ten guys on the backend that were battling and playing as a committee and as five guy units. They weren’t letting each other down. They had each other’s backs out there, and there was a lot of trust and a lot of communication amongst those guys and it showed out there.”
A lot of the credit goes to the defense of the Roughnecks, but coach Malawsky knows goalie Mike Poulin deserves a lot of credit as well because it was the fewest amount of goals the 'Poulin Wall' had allowed all year.
“Mike’s been playing with a lot of confidence right now,” he said. “He’s believing in himself and the defense and the team is believing in him. Trust is a dangerous thing when a group of guys, a group of men, are trusting and believing in each other...you can move mountains. This group of guys is really believing right now, we got a lot of confidence and a lot of trust and it comes right from the goaltender out, he’s been our backbone from day one and he’ll continue to be our backbone.”
Even Rochester’s head coach Mike Hasen recognized the play of Poulin tonight.
“He was bang on, he came up with a lot of big saves and kept them rolling,” he said. “I thought their defense was real good too, they put us in positions that allowed Poulin to see the ball really well. And when he gets to see it, he’s dynamite and that’s what he was tonight.”
But if you ask Poulin, he pushes the credit away from himself and praises the team he has in front of him.
“It’s just a matter of confidence and not second-guessing myself,” said Poulin. “It’s a fantastic team in front of me, so we just need to keep it close and we’ll be in every game.”
Like most games this season, the Roughnecks got the first goal when Jeff Shattler received a nice feed from Shawn Evans to make it 1-0 just over two minutes in. The scoring held until seven minutes later when Evans made another great pass to Scott Ranger who snuck it over the shoulder of Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc. It only took Rochester 36 seconds to respond with their first of the night when Stephen Keogh capitalized after picking up the ball from a fallen ‘Necks player, bringing his team back within one. The final goal of the frame came off the stick of Curtis ‘Superman’ Dickson after walking out from behind the net, sneaking one five-hole to make it a 3-1 lead in favor of the Riggers.
Just like in the first quarter, the Riggers found twine first in the second, when Ranger scored his second of the game and fifth of the playoffs after a nice pick and roll play with Dickson. Not to be outdone, the Knighthawks scored two in a row after Johnny Powless ripped his first of the game past Mike Poulin, and just under two minutes later, Craig Point fought off a Roughnecks defender sliding it far side, making it a one-goal game, 4-3.
Roughnecks star Dane Dobbie, who led the league with 51 goals during the regular season, then decided to make his presence known as he scored back-to-back goals in a span of 36 seconds to put the Riggers up 6-3 half way through the quarter. Dobbie was also chosen as the first star of the game, and coach Malawsky thought his player was an absolutely warrior tonight.
“You've got people that are probably a foot and a half taller than him just trying to break his wrists and break his arm," he said. "You've seen it today, a guy tried to take his head off, but all that does is fuel 'Dobs' fire. If you wanna take his head off, he’s going to get up and go right to the middle of the floor. That’s what competitors are...that's what warriors do. And this is a group of warriors who won’t be intimidated.”
Dickson joined in on the fun getting his second of the game to increase the lead to 7-3, but Rochester had the final goal of the frame when Joe Walters made a nice shot in the slot, cutting into the lead. The Riggers went into the half with a 7-4 lead despite being outshot 20-18.
The third quarter was slightly less dramatic as the previous two, as both goaltenders closed the door, turning away shot after shot. It wasn’t until 12 minutes into the quarter the first goal was scored when Cory Vitarelli for the ‘Hawks made a nice individual effort, diving across the crease to get his first of the contest.
Rochester then made it a one-goal game after Point got his second of the game on a one-timer shot. After three quarters, the Roughnecks led 7-6 but Rochester was still leading in the shots department, 31-30.
It was all Roughnecks in the fourth as it just looked as though the Knighthawks ran out of gas. Coach Hasen doesn’t really know what happened to his team in the fourth quarter but said it’s in the past now.
“We just have to get back to our principles,” said Hasen. “Move our feet, move the ball, work as a five-man unit and we’ll just get better.”
Just over two minutes in, Dobbie completed the hat-trick on a beautiful passing play with Karsen Leung and Mike Carnegie. Carnegie then got one of his own on the power-play after picking up a loose ball in the crease and puting it home before Vinc could recover from being out of position. Shawn Evans got his first of the game and 11th of the playoffs, extending the Riggers lead to 10-6 with only five minutes remaining in the game.
The Knighthawks were able to muster up one last goal with only nine seconds remaining but the Roughnecks' lead was too much to overcome as they took a 1-0 series lead.
There wasn’t too much celebration on the Roughnecks part after the big win, as they know there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The job's not done,” said Malawsky. “We’ve been battling all year to put ourselves in a position to be successful. If you win your last game, you’re a champion…Our guys have put themselves in that position and they're not celebrating because all we’ve actually done is earned ourselves an opportunity to compete for that last win. We know there is still a long road ahead of us and we’re going to take this one and get ready for Rochester next weekend.”
Mike Poulin agrees with his coach, saying the team is obviously happy to be up in the series, but that it’s far from over.
“We put ourselves in a good position but reality is we still have a long way to go,” he said. “We have to head to Rochester and we know we have a tough task ahead of us.”
Tonight’s crowd at the ‘Dome was the biggest the ‘Necks have had all season. Not only was it a big crowd, it was a loud one too.
“We have the best crowd in the NLL,” Malawsky said. “I don’t care what anyone else says. They’re our extra guy on the floor. We play seven guys every night because we've got the crowd behind us. One thing about our Calgary fans is they're very knowledgeable...we pick up a loose ball and they go crazy. It’s not about goals, it’s not about saves, they know the little parts of the game and that’s what’s so special about this city. They pay attention to this group of men and we care about them. We want to put on a good performance for them and we did the best we could for the end of the year.”
The series now shifts to Rochester for Game 2 at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, May 31 at 8 p.m. ET. If Calgary wins, the Roughnecks will lift the Champion's Cup. If Rochester wins to tie the series 1-1, a 10-minute tiebreaker game will be played immediately following the conclusion of Game 2 to determine the 2014 NLL champion.
Hasen says his team will be ready in their home barn.
“We have another opportunity going back home,” he said. “We’ve earned that opportunity to have that second one at home. We’re going to focus on that opening faceoff and being a lot better and a lot more ready for it.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Dane Dobbie
2) Mike Poulin
3) Craig Point