The side was open. Vancouver Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards seemed to be halfway back to Langley.

The pass was true.

The clock having ticked down to 18 seconds left to play, there was plenty of time.

But …

“With the automatic replay,” reflected Wesley Berg, “you’ve always got to think about the crease.

“So I stepped back trying to get a better look for Dobes and I kinda lost my footing and bobbled the ball.

“Just … that close.

“A pretty brutal feeling.

“Those sort of things happen. I guess you hope that if they happen to you at the beginning of a season, at the end, in playoffs, they even out and go your way.

“You’ve just got to shake it off and luckily we get a shot at redemption next week.”

A late uprising fell agonizingly short, that ball bouncing caroming away from the otherwise-magnificent Berg with 17.5 ticks left, and the Calgary Roughnecks dropped their 2017 season opener 12-11 to the Vancouver Stealth.

“We take some positives out of that,” said Curtis Dickson. “But we can’t get off to another slow start this season.

“That’s been our Achilles heel the last two years so we’ve got to get this turned around quickly.”

The start, forgettable. The ending, encouraging.

When Keegan Bal scored at 3:45 of Quarter 4 to extend the Vancouver lead to 12-7, the ‘Necks looked, for all intents and purposes, deader’n 8-trac tapes.

But rather than accept their fate and roll over to be fitted for a toe-tag, they mounted a comeback.

Dan MacRae got ‘er rolling 61 seconds after Bal’s tally. A murmur rippled through the Scotiabank Saddledome crowd of 11,510.

Jeff Shattler sizzling a shot home after winning a board battle. A pulse. An honest-to-goodness pulse.

Then with the net empty in favour of an extra attacker and a shade under two minutes remaining, Tyler Digby slicing through the middle, 12-10. Honest-to-goodness hope.

And, finally Berg, the Calgary net empty once again, with 48.2 seconds to work around. Pandemonium.

But it was not to be.

“I thought Wes Berg was great,” praised ‘Necks coach Curt Malawsky of his second-year forward, who finished with three goals and a helper. “We gave out the Fire Hat for the first time tonight. Usually we only give it out when we win but he got it because he’s a guy that battles in those situations.

“We’re down, it’s ugly and he just keeps going. He’s a kid that no matter what the situation is, he never changes his demeanour. He’s a competitor.

“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the win at the end. But I thought he was our best player.”

This was certainly not how 19-year-old goaltender Christian Del Bianco had envisioned his first National Lacrosse League start.

With incumbent Frank Scigliano serving a one-game suspension for his Sonny Liston-esque one-punch KO of Saskatchewan’s Aaron Bold in Dec. 16th’s pre-season tilt at SaskTel Centre, the teenager got the nod.

To make up the numbers, Zach Higgins, late of the Georgia Swarm, had been signed Tuesday to back up.

Cruelly, Vancouver’s first shot went in, at the 26-second mark. The kid had barely enough time to settle. Del Bianco got a chunk of Rhys Duch’s sharp-angle shot. Just not enough.

The struggle continued.

Del Bianco, who played all of 19 minutes last season, lasted a shade under 16 Friday, surrendering seven goals on 18 shots.

“He’s 19 years old,” reminded Malawsky. “He’s won at every other level. This is a big jump. I felt bad for him. You want to go out on the floor and play for him, shelter him the best you can.

“To be honest, I was hurting for him. I wanted him to give him every opportunity to succeed. That’s why I left him in so long. At the end of the day it just wasn’t his night.

“We’ll be talking about Christian Del Bianco for the next 15 years and he’ll be the best goalie in the NLL. This is a bit of a learning curve for him.

“There’s a lot of lacrosse left in that kid’s career. No question.”

Dickson, too, felt the ‘Necks had left the kid hanging.

“You can’t put a single ounce of blame on Christian,’’ he chimed in. “He’s a 19-year-old kid coming in to play his first game. The offence kinda let him down at the start, lots of turnovers, lots of shots.

“We gave them too many possessions, too many good looks, to get those shots.

“We’ve all got to take the blunt of the blame. Starting with me. That might’ve been the worst game I’ve played as a Roughneck, at least for awhile.

“Whether it’s your first game, like Christian, or the first game of your seventh season, like me, when things don’t go the way you want, you’ve just got to pick yourself up and move forward.”

Moving forward means a trekking west for a rematch against the Stealth, next Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.

“A tough loss,” summed up Dickson. “We fought back and that’s good see but at the end of the day, as I said before, we can’t fall behind the way we have in the past.

“It’s one of those things. It’s a long season. We see this exact same team next week in their barn next week.

“We’ve just got to watch the film, see what we did right, see what we did wrong and come out ready to go.”

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