NLL Week 1: Calgary-Vancouver Sets Stage for Can't-Miss Season

PHOTO BY DEVIN MANKY/NLL

Dane Dobbie's four points helped Calgary to a season-opening win.


With fewer playoff spots to go around in each division, the 2019-20 National Lacrosse League season should bring some testy bouts.

If many are like Friday’s contest in Vancouver, then we’re in for a can’t-miss season.

Vancouver didn’t win on the scoreboard in its home opener, falling to the defending champion Calgary Roughnecks 12-7, but the Warriors were at least able to excite fans in the closing minutes. Star forward Logan Schuss dropped the gloves with Zach Currier in a surprising duel in the final two minutes of action, keeping the crowd engaged even with a deficit.

Combined, the Calgary and Vancouver racked up 58 minutes of penalties on 22 offenses. The main two skirmishes came after a Calgary dive into the crease and a Chris O’Dougherty hit on Calgary’s Eli Salama.

It was all Calgary early. The defending league champions got out to a 10-3 lead, but the Warriors ended the game on a 4-2 run to close the gap. The Roughnecks never trailed and never let the lead shrink under three goals after going up 4-0.

“I think we just came out and we had to play hard,” captain Dane Dobbie told CalgaryRoughnecks.com. “We knew coming in that we had to match their intensity in the first five [minutes] and hopefully ride it out. I think our guys played a well-rounded 60 minutes tonight.”

Curtis Dickson led the Riggers with five points, while Dobbie and Jesse King each had four. Jesse’s younger brother Marshal notched his first NLL goal and assist in his first game in the league.

Tyler Pace had a hat trick, including this slick diving backhand.

Christian del Bianco made 63 saves.

“Credit starts with Delbs and it goes outwards,” Dobbie said. “He’s got ice in his veins back there, and he makes the saves at the right time. He bailed us out quite a bit tonight, and I’m sure he will for games down the road as well.”

Mitch Jones led the Warriors with five points. While the loss stings, a bigger issue for Vancouver going forward could be the absence of recent signee Nik Bilic. The former Rush defender left the game after crossing paths with Tyler Burton and injuring a knee.

Warriors coach Chris Gill told The Province’s Steve Ewen that the collision is what set off the high-intensity nature of the closing minutes.

"We felt one of their guys ducked down on one of our players, and we might have lost a guy for the year,” Gill said. “Instead of taking a hit, he ducked down and blew a guy's knee out."







Struggles out the gate

The Rochester Knighthawks were complimented for the offense they were able to put together in their first offseason, but the group certainly didn’t live up to its billing in its first taste of game action.

The K-Hawks forwards mustered just three goals and the team was held to just one score in the first half of a 14-4 loss to the Georgia Swarm. It was a tough first impression as the expansion franchise welcomed fans back to Blue Cross Arena Saturday.

“Obviously it wasn’t our best,” K-Hawks forward Shawn Evans said after the game. “It wasn’t what we wanted, especially at home in front of our fans. We’ve got to continue to get better.”

Of course, the team was thrown into the deep end by opening with Georgia, clearly one of the top units in the league. Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson notched seven points each as the Swarm led by as many as 12 goals.

“We’ve got to make sure we look at it because that’s the level we need to get to,” Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen said.

A crowd of 5,642 was in attendance as Knighthawks 2.0 began its journey.

Miles Thompson also had three goals and two assists, while Jordan Hall had a four-point night in his first game back with the Swarm.

Defensive showdown

Saskatchewan and Colorado’s defenses both lived up to expectations in this season-opening matchup of West Division foes, but Evan Kirk and the Rush defense provided the edge in a 9-8 win in Denver’s Pepsi Center.

The Mammoth mounted a late comeback thanks to two goals by Jacob Ruest, but Connor Robinson’s goal just 1:41 into the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner for the Rush.

Robert Church led the way for the Saskatchewan offense, as he was involved in all Rush goals besides Robinson’s final tally. His eight points came on three goals and five assists.

“I got off to a quick start with two right off the bat and then battled from there,” Church told saskrush.com. “When you throw it over to Mark [Matthews] or Ryan [Keenan], they’re going to get something done.”

Keenan had six points on two goals and four assists, and Matthews had a goal and four assists.

While Colorado won’t be the only team slowed down by the Rush defensive unit, the eight goals is a tad worrisome considering the team’s difficulty getting into the double digits last year. Ruest had three goals and two assists, and Eli McLaughlin dished out five helpers.

Noteworthy

The all-Canadian matchup between Calgary and Vancouver counts toward the new Alterna Cup, a season-long competition to crown the country’s top team … Dan Lintner earned the distinction of first goal-scorer in (the new) Rochester Knighthawks history … Colorado’s Chris Wardle, whose availability was uncertain due to injury, suited up this weekend and scored twice … Rochester’s Jay Thorimbert is nine faceoff wins away from passing Geoff Snider as the league’s all-time leader after going 8-for-12 against Georgia … Former NHLer Paul Bissonette was in attendance in Vancouver after being named a brand ambassador for the Warriors.

Up Next

Week 2 brings the season-openers for six more squads, including the first-ever games for the Halifax Thunderbirds and New York Riptide. Those two kick off the weekend at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday in Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre.

Two more out-of-division matchups begin an hour later in New England at Toronto and San Diego at Buffalo.

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