CALGARY, AB — They grew up no more than a couple of blocks apart, maybe a two-minute walk, in Coquitlam, B.C.
One flourished in the local junior lacrosse program, the Adanacs, the other not so far afield a few years earlier, for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
“It’s hard not to pay attention to someone who’s that close to you and playing that well,’’ says Frank Scigliano.
“We’ve known each other a long time. We’re friends. We’ve watched each other’s careers.
“He’s a talented young guy. A star in the making.”
“I’d say I first met Frank when I was 12 or 13 years old,’’ reckons Christian Del Bianco. “He was helping out, as I recall, working with myself and my older brother.
“Frank’s definitely someone I trust on a second level. I can count on him to give it to me straight. To be honest.
“We’re not playing games with each other. We’re not hiding anything.”
With last season’s No. 1, Mike Poulin, signed by the Georgia Swarm, entering a second National Lacrosse League season in Duluth, Ga., a spot between the sticks opens up for the hotshot teenager to prep alongside his B.C. buddy.
“We can sugar-coat all day, pull out all the Xs and Os in the world but we know at the end of the day goaltender is the most important position in the game,’’ says coach Curt Malawsky.
“And if you have two able guys who are in it for the same reasons, the right reasons, you’re halfway home.”
With only 19 seconds of National Lacrosse League action Del Bianco has his share of cramming to do given the bump up in class from the junior ranks.
“If it takes me two games, two weeks or two years, so be it,’’ he says diplomatically.
Only 24 himself, Scigliano – with five years in age, six inches in height and 60 pounds on Del Bianco – is certainly no one’s idea of an old-age pensioner.
Next to the freshly-minted 19-year-old, though, he runs the risk of feeling positively grizzled.
“Our situations are similar,’’ says Scigliano. “We both came into the league at a young age. The Roughnecks brought me along, I had Mike Poulin there to mentor me, and now they want to do the same with him.
“That’s fine by me.
“What’s important is that we’re always rooting for each other, no matter what.
“We’re both in. To help the Roughnecks win games.”
As it just so happens, Del Bianco’s speciality is winning. It became his trademark in Coquitlam.
Embarking on his pro career, he exits the junior ranks sporting a spotless, eye-catching, bordering-on-unbelievable 34-0 record in regular-season games and another 20-3 W-L balance sheet come playoff time and under the glare of Minto Cup scrutiny.
That’s called performance on demand.
“I’ve been lucky to grow up in a lacrosse town where every year our junior team has a chance to go for it,’’ Del Bianco says.
“That’s the mindset our coaches demand from us – losing is not acceptable. There are no smiles in the dressing room after a loss in Coquitlam.
“It’s drilled into your brain from a young age: Winning is everything.
“And as much as we enjoy winning, we hate losing more.”
Exactly what Malawsky wants to hear.
“I watched Christian in the Minto Cup last year and to be able to handle that type of pressure … I’ve never seen a young goaltender handle it that well.
“The bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the better he was.
“Usually you’re talking about that in a goaltender who’s 28, 29. At 19, he’s ahead of the curve, no question. He seems to really adapt to his environment.
“When he exudes that confidence, walks in knowing he’s going to win, that’s contagious.
“Players sense it.
“Players sense if a goalie’s rattled, if he’s uncertain, if he’s doubting.
“When they know he’s got your back, when they know if they make a mistake the goalie’s going to bail them out, that’s unquantifiable in my mind.
“And we have two of those guys.
“With Christian, there’ll be some lessons to learn but …”
… but that’s where his sounding board/role model Frank comes in.
“It’s a good dynamic,’’ reckons Scigliano. “We don’t have a large age gap, like you often see in goalie tandems, so we can relate to certain things on and off
the floor in the same way.
“Whatever help I can give him, I’m there.
“He wants to play and that’s normal. That’s the mindset he has to have.
“I think that only pushes me, as well.”
Scigliano and Del Bianco. They represent, in terms of compatibility, what seems an ideal pairing.
Friends. Comrades. No forced smiles. No simmering-under-the-surface petty jealousies.
“Some people might say ‘Hey, you’ve got a 19-year-old kid in net, how do you feel about it?’,’’ says Malawsky.
“Well, I know how he’s going to respond. He’s met every challenge. He might not be great out of the gate but he will adapt.
“You take the age off him and I think he’s going to open some eyes across the NLL.
“With him and Frank, we’ve really got two quality young goaltenders here. It’s an exciting situation for everybody.”