If the NLL had an award for most exciting player, Curtis Dickson would win it every year.
The man is a marvel. No wonder the Calgary Roughnecks promote him as their Superman. He is a man of steel.
“I’ve played with a lot of great guys and great goal scorers, but Curtis, the pounding he takes, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin said. “It really is incredible. It’s something to clap your hands at and to be in awe of when you see the ‘SportsCenter’ highlights he puts up.”
The latest highlight (below courtesy of Calgary Roughnecks) was etched into lacrosse fans’ memories in Toronto. Dickson ran with the ball in his stick toward the Rock crease. Four checkers hacked and whacked at him. He bounced off bodies and somehow stayed on his feet despite the punishment he took from Brodie Merrill, Brock Sorensen, Jeff Gilbert and Sandy Chapman. With his back to the net, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward swung his stick so he could shoot the ball between his legs. The ball bounced over goalie Nick Rose’s left shoulder and into the top corner of the net. Merrill’s shoulders slumped, his arms dropped to his sides and his head fell back in a response of utter frustration.
The second-quarter goal gave Calgary a 6-3 lead. With Dickson scoring six goals in all, the Roughnecks went on to win 15-10 last Friday night.
“He takes a beating,” Calgary coach Curt Malawsky said when asked about Dickson. “He gets dragged by three or four guys. If he started getting the [penalty] calls he deserves, I think he’d be even better. Right now, the treatment he is getting is not right.”
“You get used to it,” Dickson said, shrugging off mention of the abuse he takes. “It’s something you see every night in this league. You just hopefully get the calls and if you don’t, you keep going. You fight through.”
Aside from his on-floor heroics, the most impressive thing about Dickson is his attitude.
“He’s a competitor,” Malawsky said. “He channels his emotions in the right way. If you knock him down, he’s not going to get up and put one in your mouth or put a high stick on you. He’s going to put the ball in your net. It’s a great quality to have.”
Dickson grew up playing box lacrosse in British Columbia. One of the best decisions he made in his teens was to enrol at the University of Delaware so he could play NCAA field lacrosse. John Grant Jr. had done the same. Dickson was a team captain and scored 62 goals as a senior in 2010. In 2015, he scored a career-high 48 goals in his fifth NLL season and, with 35 in 11 games in 2016, he is going to top that in his sixth.
The mid-zone, fadeaway, sidearm shot is one of his trademarks, as is the dive into the crease to score. The Superman label came from the length of time he spends flying through the air in his flights to stuff balls into the far side of nets.
“I don’t care how they go in as long as they go in and help put some wins in the wins column,” Dickson said.
Calgary had lost four in a row. The last three were overtime heartbreakers. Lefty Dane Dobbie had missed all four due to a hand injury. Getting him back for the game in Toronto was part of the winning formula.
“He’s such a huge part of our offense,” Dickson said. “He takes a lot of pressure off the right-handers out there. It’s awesome to see him back out there.”
Scoring six goals was not enough for Dickson to get the game ball that is awarded after wins. Poulin got it. The 30-year-old goalie spent the first part of the season on the end of the bench as Frankie Scigliano got the starts, but is front and center now, playing as well as he did in 2012 when he was NLL Goalie of the Year.
“Poulin has been incredible the last few games,” Dickson said. “He and the defense have been lights out. We wouldn’t be going into OT without those guys.”
The Roughnecks are a colorful crew. As they mingled in their dressing room after beating the Rock, they began singing.
If you wanna have fun, you gotta win.
Over and over.
“That was a great team win,” Malawsky said. “It was time for the offense to step up. Getting Dane Dobbie back into the lineup made a big difference. It was huge having him back. Toronto’s defense was big and mean and didn’t give any of our guys going through the middle anything for free.”
Dickson repeatedly paid a price.
“You know what, you put the ball in his stick and he continuously makes something out of nothing,” Malawsky said. “He’s a special, special player. It was our focus to try and utilize him a bit more in this game and get him more looks. The last couple of games it was tough, because without Dobbie, teams were sliding a guy over and saying, ‘We’ll let your right guys try to beat us.’ Our lefts [on Friday] were very good at balancing things out and getting Dickson a little more room.”
Defenseman Tyson Bell scored two goals, as Calgary’s transition game excelled.
“It was a big part of our game plan,” Malawsky said. “The message from the coaches was: ‘We trust you guys.’ You have to roll the dice. Those kinds of goals are momentum shifters.”
So will the Roughnecks continue to go with Poulin? Regardless, the two goalies will fully support each other.
“Frankie and Mike have a great relationship,” Malawsky said. “Mike is a first-class guy. He screams character. We knew we were going to go with the young guy to start the season. Every time Mike came off the bench, he did a great job. From a coaching perspective, you have to reward someone like that. He earned the opportunity to get back into the net. He’s been great, and now Frankie is his biggest supporter. I’ve said it for years: Those two guys work very well together. We’ve got a good thing going there.”
Calgary sits third in the NLL West at 4-7. Don’t count the Roughnecks out. Malawsky said he retains faith they can accomplish something significant.
“I always did. That confidence, that belief, never wavered. When you lose the one-goal games like we did, a lot of teams might fold up. It just made us want it more. You really see the true colors of a man when you’re in these situations. The guys with the good character go looking for solutions and the guys without that go looking for problems. I’ll tell you, there wasn’t guy in that room who didn’t go looking for solutions.”
Added Poulin: “Anything can happen in the West. We just have to keep playing our brand of lacrosse. We’ve had some bad breaks. We’ve lost some overtime games — three in a row, which was tough — but we responded well. Without a doubt, I can say we’re the most prepared team in the league because of the work our coaching staff puts into it. Curt Malawsky puts together a hell of a game plan. The scouting reports are on point. We’re ready for any situation. It’s a funny league. Rochester won a championship with a 7-9 season. It’s all about how you perform in the playoffs.”