The Calgary Roughnecks fell to the Halifax Thunderbirds 15–12 after a commanding first half and a collapsing second.
Knocking off the Halifax Thunderbirds has proven to be the hardest task in lacrosse this season, but in the first half of tonight’s game, the defending NLL Champs look like they had it figured out. Opening the scoring early for the Calgary Roughnecks was Tyler Pace on a beautiful diving goal just 1 minute into the game. He followed that up just 68 seconds later with a rebound off of Warren Hill to gain an early 2–0 lead.
It is usually Halifax taking early leads, scoring within the first minutes of most of their games so far. Tonight, they were on the receiving end of offense hot out of the gate. An early Power Play opportunity for the Roughnecks and a slippery behind-the-back pass from Rhys Duch to Curtis Dickson stretched Calgary’s lead to 3 halfway through the opening period.
It was Stephen Keogh for Halifax who finally broke the stout defense of Calgary and snuck a shot past Christian Del Bianco after nearly 9 minutes of gameplay. That would be the only offensive light for the Thunderbirds in the first quarter, however. After a few big saves by Halifax goaltender Warren Hill, Zach Herreweyers reclaimed the 3-goal lead for the Roughnecks going into the second period.
The second quarter, both defenses seemed to find their rhythms, not allowing any goals until James Barclay intercepted a Roughneck pass and ran the floor, bringing the Thunderbirds within 2. Dickson answered a few minutes later with his 2nd goal of the night and taking back a 3-goal lead for Calgary with under 5 minutes to go before halftime, and then collected his 3rd goal of the first half shortly after. He cut straight through the usually rock-solid Thunderbird defense and back handed the ball through Warren Hill’s legs.
Down 4–2 with 32 seconds left in the first half, a Power Play opportunity for Halifax was just what they needed to get back into the game and build some momentum going into the break. A slash was called on Tyson Bell, and 4 seconds into the extra-man opportunity the lethal Cody Jamieson fired a shot past Del Bianco.
“We know we didn’t play our best in the first half,” said Jamieson as the second half began. “Calgary is a great team and will score if we give them the opportunity, so we have to finish our shots and pick it up if we want to win.”
Something changed for the Thunderbird’s offense in the second half and something changed for the Roughneck’s defense as well. After a dominant defensive half by Calgary and a lackluster offensive performance by Halifax, the tables turned.
Beginning the third on a Power Play that had rolled over from the end of the second, the Thunderbird’s Jake Withers continued his dominance at the faceoff X and gave Cody Jamieson the chance to rip another extra-man goal. You could feel the momentum swinging toward Halifax at this point, and the floodgates had opened.
Keogh fought through the Roughneck defense and added another goal, followed shortly by Jamieson on a pass from Brad Gillies, collecting a hat trick and tying the game at 6.
Tyler Pace followed Jamieson’s hatty with one of his own, scoring a goal from the corner of the offensive zone and beating Warren Hill low to reclaim the lead for Calgary. Herreweyes came back just 31 seconds later to stretch the lead to 2 yet again.
After a 4–0 run by the Thunderbirds answered by 2 quick Roughneck goals, the Thunderbirds got right back to business. Between the 6:53 mark in the third and the 14:19 mark in the fourth, Halifax would score 7 unanswered goals. The run was kicked off by rookie phenom Clarke Petterson scoring back-to-back goals to even the game at 8. A pair of goals by Keogh brought him to 4 on the night, and 2 more by Ryan Benesch moved him up in the All-Time scoring list, now tied for 8th.
When the drought for Calgary finally ended, Shane Simpson ran right through the defense and finished on the doorstep, doing his part to cut into the deficit that had so quickly fallen onto the Roughnecks after leading early in the game.
Stephen Keogh answered with his 5th goal of the night and regained a 5-goal lead for Halifax as they led 14–9. The Roughnecks would get two more goals from Dan Taylor and Shane Simpson again, but it was not enough as Petterson collected his hat trick and Jake Withers won yet another faceoff, allowing the Thunderbirds to run the clock out and seal a 15–12 victory.
Withers finished the night winning 27 of 32 faceoffs and was an integral part of the Roughnecks struggles in the second half. After playing such a sharp first half, the Roughnecks defense could not find the answers for the Thunderbird’s playmakers. Keogh finished the game with 5 goals and set the pace for the offense, earning the Player of the Game honor.
“We just started moving our feet and moving the ball. We took some hard shots and they started dropping,” said Keogh post-game.
While the second half was certainly not the outcome the Roughnecks would have liked to see, there were some positive aspects that came from it. Tyler Pace emerged as a scoring threat, and the assistant captain Curtis Dickson played well, too. There is a lot of potential going forward on offense if the Roughnecks can sort out some of the defensive woes that plagued them tonight in the second half.
The Thunderbirds improve to 6–0 on the season and sit atop the NLL, while Calgary falls to 2–4 and remains winless at home. They will look to change that in their next game when the struggling New York Riptide make the trip to Canada on February 8th. That game begins at 9:30 Eastern/7:30 Mountain and can be streamed on B/R Live.