Despite a late rally in the fourth quarter, the Calgary Roughnecks were edged 12-11 by the Vancouver Stealth on Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Coach Curt Malawsky liked what he saw in the final frame when Dan MacRae, Jeff Shattler, Tyler Digby and Wesley Berg reeled off four straight goals to pull the Riggers within one in front of an anxious crowd of 11,510 fans on hand to take in Calgary’s home opener.
“I like the fact that when we were down by four there, we just battled back and stayed the course,” said Malawsky after the disappointing setback. “If we play like that with that urgency and that passion and that compete, I don’t think the game gets to that point.
“I think if we play like for 60 – and I know it sounds like the perfect potion – but if we do I think we have a better chance of coming out on the right end. I like the way we finished, but I didn’t like the rest of the game prior to that last fourth quarter.”
Corey Small led the Vancouver attack with a hat trick and five helpers while goalie Tyler Richards made 36 saves to backstop the Stealth to the win.
Berg had a hat trick and a helper for the Riggers, while Curtis Dickson scored once and set up four others.
“We kind of dug ourselves into a hole,” said Dickson. “We knew we were in the game the entire time. We just can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot and getting behind the eight-ball and getting down early. I put a lot of the blame on myself. That might have been the worst game I played as a Roughneck. “
Tyler Digby had a goal and three assists, while Dane Dobbie (2g, 2a), Jeff Shattler (2g, 1a), Riley Loewen (2a) and Curtis Manning (2a) also had multiple-point performances
Rookie forward Holden Cattoni notched his first-ever NLL goal in the second quarter when he made a couple quick swim moves before shooting the ball around Vancouver defender Matt Beers and past Richards to the far post.
“It’s just exciting,” said Cattoni, who used to be a ball boy for the Riggers along with his brother Taite. “For it to actually happen is kind of a whirlwind and kind of a surprise at the same time. I didn’t know what to do with myself after, but it’s really exciting and hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Goalie Christian Del Bianco started for Calgary and stopped 11 of 18 shots he faced before being replaced by Higgins, who made 34 saves in a relief appearance.
“I’ve been here before on the visiting end so I knew the crowd was going to be rocking,” said Higgins, who was signed by the ’Necks last Tuesday. “It was more exciting, just trying to calm the excitement down to get focused to play. I was more focused on trying to help the guys get back in the game and win.”
Keegan Bal also had a hat trick and two assists for the Stealth, while Rhys Duch scored twice and set up five others. Thomas McKee, Logan Schuss, Thomas Hoggarth and Joel McCready also scored for Vancouver.
The same to teams will meet up for a rematch on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Langley Events Centre.
“We’ve had slow starts the last two seasons,” said Dickson. “We can’t afford to do it this year, so we’ve got to figure things out quick and come back with a better effort next weekend.”
Duch scored 26 seconds into the game before McCready and McKee counted goals 39 seconds apart to give the Stealth a 3-0 lead at 8:13.
Berg then took a pass from Dickson before firing a quick shot past Richards 26 seconds after McKee’s goal to get the Riggers on the board.
After Bal answered back for the Stealth, Berg converted another feed from Dickson when he jumped into the air and snapped a shot just over Richards’ shoulder and just under the crossbar.
Small scored late in the first quarter and early in the second before Duch notched his second of the contest to build Vancouver’s lead to 7-2.
That prompted Malawsky to replace Del Bianco in net with Higgins and the move seemed to spark the ’Necks, who rallied with three straight goals by Dobbie, Cattoni and Shattler.
Bal and Dickson then traded goals before Schuss scored a power-play marker to put the Stealth up 9-6 heading into the halftime intermission.
Small completed his hat trick at 4:16 of the third quarter before Dobbie took a pass in transition and scored a short-handed goal.
Hoggarth scored at 13:07 of the third and Bal notched his third of the game at 3:45 of the fourth before MacRae converted a breakaway opportunity 61 seconds later to a furious finish for the ’Necks that came up one goal short.