In an NLL Finals series that mirrored the intensity, suspense, thrill (and thankfully not gore) of an episode of Game of Thrones, Calgary Roughnecks goaltender Christian Del Bianco was able to bolster his claim to the throne as the league’s best goaltender as he out-battled Matt Vinc and the Buffalo Bandits en route to an NLL Cup.
As the adage goes, “To be the best, you have to beat the best,” and Del Bianco did just that in consecutive games while facing the six-time (potentially seven) Goaltender of the Year in Vinc. Much like a video game, Del Bianco needed to defeat the likes of other “bosses” before tackling the NLL’s supreme challenger. Before Vinc, Del Bianco had performances more masterful than Frank Scigliano and Dillon Ward who were across the floor in-between pipes: quite the list of goaltenders to outplay.
Long-dubbed as “The NLL’s best up-and-coming goaltender,” Del Bianco’s NLL Playoffs run was one for the ages. Del Bianco posted a 8.71 goals against average (GAA) and an .838 Save Percentage (SV%) throughout the playoffs, a rare performance among goaltenders who played at least three games in the postseason.
Included in those epic numbers are back-to-back games in which he allowed only four and seven goals versus the Colorado Mammoth and Bandits, respectively. During the matchup against the Mammoth, Del Bianco stopped 29 shots and shutout the visitors in the opening 30 minutes before surrendering a measly four goals in the second half and finishing with 47 saves. It was arguably the greatest NLL Playoffs performance in league history. To follow that with another epic outing on the road in “Banditland” and one of the toughest arenas to visit in the NLL in KeyBank Center against the league’s most potent offence was mind-boggling.
And while not his best game, in the most consequential game of his young career, Del Bianco made clutch save after clutch save to earn his team the most coveted trophy in the game.
Throughout the year, and especially during Game 2 of the NLL Finals, when the Roughnecks’ young goaltender was not in top-form, head coach Curt Malawsky and his tight knit staff’s confidence in Del Bianco never wavered because they have always known what he’s capable of since he entered the league.
“From day one, we haven’t worried about Christian,” said Malawsky. “I say that because we have one hundred percent trust in Christian and he proved why he earned that this year.”
Before the post-season began, Del Bianco showed flashes of his brilliance, allowing only five goals against twice and surrendering less than ten goals on five other occasions. Those efforts, including the stretch of games in the post-season, brought on deep admiration from veteran teammates such as Rhys Duch who has played with and against some of the NLL’s most feared goaltenders over the last decade.
“Del Bianco is a great goalie, and he’ll be a great goalie in this league,” said Duch. “But what he did during that final stretch of games – it’s tough to remember any goalie in the history of the league who put together a run like that.”
It may be expected for teammates to support each other like this, but it’s not always the case. It’s even harder to win over top-tier veteran players such as Duch and Curtis Dickson. Yet, Dickson, too is impressed with what Del Bianco has accomplished at his age.
“You don’t see that often when a player at his age steps up, and they have an impact that he did,” said Dickson. “To see the strides that he made this season, especially during the second half of the season, he was obviously a huge reason for why we got to where we did.”
With only two years under his belt as the starting goaltender, the Coquitlam native has already totaled 16 games in which he has played 45 minutes and allowed single-digit goals against. Del Bianco has also racked up 22 performances of at least 40 saves.
At the same point in his career, a young Matt Vinc had only five games in which he allowed less than ten goals in 45 minutes and six games with 40 or more saves. If Del Bianco were to continue at his current rate, he will statistically obliterate what one of the greatest goaltenders in NLL history has accomplished.
When a goaltender can produce results the way Del Bianco has, and then improve each year that he’s been a starter, as well as in the post-season, it gives his teammates confidence that they can rely on their man between the pipes.
Jesse King is new to the Roughnecks organization and he knows how much easier it makes his job in this new system. Having played with a skilled goaltender like Mike Poulin in Georgia for the Swarm, King appreciates having a reliable man in net.
“When you’ve got a guy like Christian who is stopping the opportunities that you’re trying to limit as a defence, you have the utmost confidence in a guy like that,” said King. “It allows you to settle in, relax and play your role better because you have that trust and confidence in one another,”
Del Bianco’s teammates greatly respect what he’s done at such a young age in this league and believe he can achieve even greater heights. Outside of the Roughnecks organization, the feel-ing is mutual, which is something to be feared considering a goaltender isn’t expected to hit his prime until his mid-20’s.
He has achieved as much as he has because of his ability to rebound after allowing a goal and process quickly to make in-game adjustments, his dedication in practice and his raw talent. These are treasured gifts we’ve seen him hone since Junior-A lacrosse with the Coquitlam Jr. Adanacs.
He has matured and improved every season and has now shown the world that even on the toughest stage in box lacrosse, he is the one to beat.