The Calgary Roughnecks endured a heartbreaking loss to Rochester in 2014 NLL Champion's Cup finale. (Photo: Kevin Hoffman)
The 2014 Calgary Roughnecks came oh-so-close to achieving their ultimate goal: the franchise’s third National Lacrosse League title.
The Riggers held a two-goal lead with just over two minutes to play in the winner-take-all mini-game this past Saturday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. After all this team had been through in the 2014 season and playoffs, holding on for the victory seemed almost inevitable.
Alas, it was not to be, and the 2014 season ended in crushing defeat.
“If we get a big stop at 2:14 [left in the mini-game], then we’ve got two possessions to kill and I like our chances of killing that,” Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky said after the game. “That’s what’s exciting about lacrosse: the game can turn at a split second and tonight it did and we were on the short end of the stick and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Indeed, this game did turn and in a big way.
With 2:14 to play, Rochester forward Craig Point slid himself behind the Roughnecks defense in transition and Rochester-area native Joe Walters found him right on the crease with a perfect pass from just inside the midfield line. Point promptly buried the opportunity, giving the Knighthawks the breath of life they needed.
51 seconds later, Walters lowered his shoulder and drove to the middle, unleashing a laser side-arm show, much like the hard-fought goals that Calgary forward Curtis Dickson has a knack of scoring.
Tie game -- 1:23 to play.
Rochester won the ensuing faceoff, an area they dominated in the mini-game, winning 83% of draws. The absence of injured faceoff specialist Geoff Snider was painfully obvious for Riggers fans.
Once again, it was Walters who came up with a big play. He spotted Point again, this time in the slot, and just like that, a mere 1:15 after Calgary held a 2-0 lead, the Riggers found themselves trailing by one with 58.5 seconds to play.
Calgary was able to muster a heart-stopping flurry of opportunities in the final seconds, but they could not find the equalizer they so desperately needed.
“I’m sorry to the fans that we let down,” said a dejected Andrew McBride. “Kudos to Rochester for coming out and being able to get three straight [goals]. That’s a good lacrosse team and that’s what lacrosse is all about, coming down to those bounces in the final two minutes and we just weren’t able to seal the deal on the defensive end.”
Indeed, it appeared the Riggers’ captain was carrying the burden of his entire team, or at least his entire defensive unit, as he forced himself to answer questions from the assembled media following the loss.
McBride is the only member of the 2014 Roughnecks who has played in all three NLL Championship opportunities. The first two, both played at home in Calgary, resulted in triumphant victories in 2004 and 2009.
This was the first time they faced the challenge of clinching a championship on the road.
“You’re going into an adverse situation in an adverse barn with the whole crowd of home fans [against] you,” McBride said. “Every team in this league has a home-floor advantage, so it is more difficult in an opposing [arena]. But that’s what you battle all year for is to have that opportunity and it didn’t go our way tonight.”
Despite the obvious disappointment, these Roughnecks insisted that they had a successful season, especially Malawsky.
“I was quoted last year as saying the season was a waste when we lost, and I feel absolutely different this year," he said. "I think our guys grew as men, I think they learned a lot of life lessons. We lost to the best team in the NLL, it’s as simple as that.”
When a member of the media asked if this was a missed opportunity, Malawsky was candid.
“Is it a missed opportunity? Absolutely. But do we feel that we blew it? No. We got beat by a better team. That’s just the way it was and I’m proud of the way our guys competed.”
This team has much to be proud of. They pulled out playoff overtime victories over both Colorado and Edmonton. A pair of Shawn Evans goals led them over Edmonton in the mini-game earning the trip to Rochester and the chance at the Champion's Cup.
“We had no quit, no give-up,” Evans said. “We battled back all year and did it in playoffs too and thought destiny was on our side… two overtime wins to get here and we were that close to taking it all and I think that’s why it’s a little bit hard to swallow right now.
“But it’s one of those life lessons you’ve got to learn; you learn it the hard way sometimes when you’re so close and you can reach it but you just can’t get there. We’ve just got to learn from it.”
Indeed that is the lesson his coach was preaching. That there is much to learn from this experience and the season as a whole; so much they can take with them into next season and beyond.
“We started back in December and we grew as a family and we grew as a group. I’ve won championships and I’ve lost championships, and this one doesn’t sting as bad because the group of men and how they handled themselves all season long,” Malawsky stated calmly. “And I can’t be more proud to lead this group of men down the road because they’re special. They hold their head high. Everyone says to hold your head high when you lose and that’s an easy cliché and I really believe that these men should hold their head high.
“It’s going to sting, but you know what, we’ll be better for it. These men will be better for it. You’ve got to lose sometimes before you win and it’s a tough pill to swallow but you’ll look back down the road in life and you’re going to say, ‘you know what, that’s what maybe turned the corner for us, so we’re still believing in each other.
“We’re proud to be Roughnecks.”