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Defense on Display as Calgary Takes Game 1

The Calgary Roughnecks proved victorious over the Buffalo Bandits in Game 1 of the NLL Finals, grabbing the 10-7 win at the KeyBank Center. It was a back and forth affair through three quarters of play, with the score at the half being just 2-2.


“Tie game on the road at half is exactly where we wanted them,” said Roughnecks forward Rhys Duch, who put in a four point (2G, 2A) night. “We were getting chances, but were missing the net a little. Plus, Vno [Matt Vinc] was making some good saves.”


Hard physical defense was on display for much of the first. Both teams excelled and limited scoring opportunities so much so, that the first goal didn’t come until the 6:25 mark when Rhys Duch buried one top corner on Matt Vinc to give the ‘Necks the 1-0 lead. Buffalo’s offense started to get visibly frustrated, as the Calgary defense continued to clog the middle shooting lane, blocking several Bandit shots.


“We were clogging the middle the entire time, and there wasn’t any space between us,” said Bandits forward Josh Byrne. “We just got away from our game plan a little bit.”


Buffalo and Calgary continued to trade offensive blows with no success. The Roughnecks looked as if they would add to their lead when Tyson Bell had a clear breakaway, but six-time NLL Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc came up strong for the home team, denying him the opportunity. Corey Small would later find the back of the net off a feed from Shawn Evans, and just like that things were tied at one a piece. The Bandits pulled Vinc with under 30 seconds left in the first to get the extra attacker, but Christian Del Bianco came up big with his 10th save of the quarter.


Calgary caught a great break to open the second quarter on their first possession. Bandit Matt Spanger took an illegal cross-checking penalty, giving the dangerous Roughnecks powerplay unit their first opportunity of the night, but to no avail.


The scoreboard would finally tick once again, as Dhane Smith snagged a pass from a diving Evans and fired it past Del Bianco from the point. It took nearly ten minutes into the second quarter, but Buffalo finally found their first lead of the night at 2-1. That lead would only last three minutes, as Duch grabbed his second goal of the night for Calgary after catching Steve Priolo flat footed on the left wing.


Calgary found themselves man-down for the first time with just a minute remaining in the first half, as Greg Harnett took a holding call on forward Thomas Hoggarth. The Roughnecks almost had a shorthanded scoring opportunity though, as Del Bianco showcased his passing skills to a down floor Curtis Dickson, but Buffalo defenders were quick to limit Dickson’s angle. Del Bianco earned 11 assists during the regular season, proving to be a real threat at quick-starting his team’s offense.


At the end of the first half things seemed more like a hockey game with a tie of 2-2. With shots at 28-20 in favor of Buffalo, whatever the Bandits were throwing at Calgary, they were matching it.


“At the end of that first half we knew goals were going to be at a premium,” said Bandits forward Corey Small. “They got a couple goal run in there, and offensively we have to do a better job of scoring a bunch of our own. Tonight, we didn’t really do that.”


After assisting on the Bandits only other two goals, Shawn Evans would finally get one of his own to open up third quarter scoring. His goal would push the Bandits ahead 3-2, but like their last lead, it was short lived. Del Bianco would kick start Calgary’s advance from between the pipes with a pass to Reece Callies, who found an open Dan MacRae on the Bandits doorstep to tie things up once again.


With a diving twister shot, Dickson put the Roughnecks back in the lead at 4-3. Dickson’s partner in crime, Dane Dobbie, would also find his first of the night with one that got nothing but net on Vinc.


“Dane Dobbie is one of the best, and smartest players to ever play the game,” said the Roughnecks’ Duch. “He was a little snake bitten the first half, but you’re not going to hold Dickson and Dobbie off the scoreboard for a whole game. So, we knew it was coming.”


Things started to get chippy near the final whistle of the third, with the Bandits Chase Fraser and Calgary’s Zach Currier taking coincidental dead ball fouls following a scrum on the floor. Calgary would now enter the final quarter of play with their first two goal lead of the night.


Dobbie would continue to add his name to the scoresheet by extending Calgary’s lead to 6-3. Ethan O’Connor looked to spark things up for Buffalo, but his diving effort to get one past Del Bianco was waived off for a crease violation.


The Bandits wouldn’t have to wait long for redemption, however. Tyson Bell took a minor for slashing, and Corey Small would convert on the power play for Buffalo to put things at 6-4. Dobbie answered back for Calgary once again, completing his hattrick, with Jesse King and Dan Taylor putting in goals of their own. What was once a back-and-forth affair, now saw Calgary starting to pull away at 9-4.


“It’s heartbreaking when you can’t step them on the backend,” said Bandits captain and defenseman Steve Priolo. “We put that [three goal run] on us, we should have stopped it.”


Buffalo needed some big goals to stop the Roughnecks run, and they found that with Josh Byrne. The Bandits forward scored two in a row, both in style, one on a dive and the other by bouncing it off the back of Del Bianco. Now at 9-6, the Bandits were starting to crawl back into the game.


Fraser put in another big one for Buffalo which seemed to step up the whole team’s intensity. The defense started playing more hard-nosed like we saw in the first half, just fighting to regain possession in hopes of making a comeback for the home crowd.


Calgary’s offense started playing more conservative, not forcing passes and instead valuing possession time. Mitch Wilde, a former Bandit now sporting the red and black, scored an empty net goal (before being boarded by Ian MacKay) with 1:26 remaining to seal the game for Calgary 10-7.


Game 2 will be at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary next week, May 25th at 9:00pm ET. Coverage will begin 30 minutes prior to game time at 8:30pm ET with NLL Finals Pre-Game LIVE, available to B/R Live subscribers and simulcast on the NLL’s social channels via Facebook Live and Twitter.