The two leading goal scorers in the league coming into Week 18, Lyle Thompson of the Georgia Swarm and Dane Dobbie of the Calgary Roughnecks, were expected to lead a high scoring affair out west at Scotiabank Saddledome. After an initial defensive standoff, the Most Valuable Player frontrunners and their teams of sharpshooters did not disappoint.
Georgia’s Randy Staats, who has also staked his claim to the MVP award, was a late scratch and did not play.
The former Rigger, Holden Cattoni opened the scoring and showed the 11,826 Calgary faithful in attendance he can still do what he did 36 times last year when he was wearing red, black, and white. The now yellow-clad forward would add three additional goals and an apple to surpass last year’s point total and, for the moment, set his career high at 77.
The goaltenders dominated the first 12 minutes of the game, holding their respective opponents to just one goal apiece despite a breathtaking pace of play. But even the accomplished Swarm veteran, Mike Poulin and the outstanding 21-year old Roughneck, Christian Del Bianco could not keep these two arsenals locked up for long. Georgia’s and Cattoni’s second goal of the game would loosen up the scoring for the remainder of the contest.
Dane Dobbie, sitting on his own career high of 99 points before the game, would not be denied his century mark milestone before the first quarter expired. His goal with just over two minutes left in the opening frame tied the game at two and sparked the Roughnecks on a four goal run.
Georgia was unfazed and quickly answered with a four goal run of its own to set the tone in the second quarter. The shooters were shooting, and these gunslingers weren’t missing. What could be more appropriate in a classic Western?
After trading goals at a furious rate the rest of the period, the Swarm quickly went from catching its breath to holding it. With just under three minutes left in the half, Poulin left the floor with an apparent lower body injury he suffered while moving laterally to make a save. He was relieved by rookie, Kevin Orleman, of under 88 minutes of NLL experience to his name, and did not return.
A 10-8 Calgary lead at halftime would evaporate in the third quarter thanks to Georgia goals by sophomore transition player, Zed Williams and Miles Thompson. After a quick goal by Dobbie to re-take the lead for Calgary, a late Swarm goal by Shayne Jackson tied the game at 11 going into the final stanza.
As the desperation that accompanies a ticking clock increased, so too did the scoring early in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the busiest participant early on in the fourth was Crew Chief, Todd Labranche. Swarm head coach, Ed Comeau unsuccessfully challenged a goal by Dane Dobbie, who Labranche determined was not the first to receive a pass after exiting the crease and was also clean in his dive from behind the net. 81 seconds later, Roughnecks bench boss, Curt Malawsky threw his own flag, believing Lyle Thompson stepped on the crease line before burying the ball in the net. Labranche exited the penalty box and confirmed this goal, too. These guys don’t top the scoring charts for nothing . . .
With the score knotted at 13 and three minutes and change to play, the Roughnecks’ Curtis Manning cross-checked Georgia’s Shayne Jackson in the back to earn a minor penalty – a crucial mistake considering Georgia’s 55% conversion rate on the power play, good for second in the league. At least, common sense would dictate as such.
A shorthanded chance from Dobbie 25 seconds into the power play would be saved by Orleman, who played heroically in long relief duty, saving 26 of the 31 shots he faced. But this was Calgary’s Superheroes’ Night and Superman was on scene to save the day. Taking a pass from teammate, Zach Currier on the next possession, the Roughnecks’ Curtis Dickson buried a shorty, his fourth goal of the night, to give the Roughnecks the lead.
Calgary killed off the remainder of the penalty and brought the crowd to its feet. Dickson, trying to seal the victory, ran hard into the Georgia crease but did not stop before reaching Orleman, earning a minor penalty for goalie interference and putting the Swarm on the power play for the remaining 22 seconds of the game.
The Swarm pulled the goalie to create a 6-on-4 chance. But hard work on the penalty kill and a clutch save by the post off the stick of Miles Thompson just before the horn would seal this instant classic and potential NLL Cup Finals preview for the Riggers.
The Swarm, who drop to 12-5, had already clinched a home playoff game in Round 1 and now trail Buffalo (12-4) in the East Division.
The Roughnecks had previously clinched a playoff berth. They improve to 9-8 and remain within striking distance of West Division leaders, San Diego (9-6 before tonight) and Saskatchewan (8-6).