There’s been nothing lucky about the Calgary Roughnecks’ 13 wins this National Lacrosse League season.
They’ve earned them all.
And the one in Friday night’s final game of the 2022-23 NLL regular season — to give them a franchise high — was no exception.
The Roughnecks clawed back from a three-goal deficit at halftime to score a 13-12 victory over the Panther City Lacrosse Club at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
“That was a perfect summation of our team,” said Roughnecks veteran Dan Taylor, a two-goal man on the night. “We go down, and we don’t have our great stuff in the first half, but everybody on the team kind of looks each other in the face and goes, ‘We can be better.’
“It’s huge, and so this is going to be big going into playoffs.”
Indeed, the Roughnecks got it done to cap the regular season behind Jesse King’s milestone night and Christian Del Bianco’s 36 saves, including a key one off Callum Crawford on a penalty shot in the waning seconds.
Captain King had three goals for a career-best 42 on the season and added three assists for the first 100-point year of his career.
“I know it’s not something he’s going to be excited about now, but he’ll look back at it,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “But his leadership is great — he stepped up in the second half. He put the offence on this shoulders and got three big goals for us.”
The offence clicked right out of the gate, opening the game with an early goal from Tanner Cook — while leaping across the crease — and closed the first quarter with a late tally by Taylor — on a beauty and timely dunk from behind the net.
But in between, it was the home team with the majority of the goals — four to the Riggers’ one by Zach Herreweyers, who drew in from the scratch list for absent star Tyler Pace and scored in transition off his own rebound.
Panther City then stretched its lead to 5-3 early in the second stanza on a Will Malcom goal as part of another frame outscoring the visitors. For the Roughnecks before halftime, it was Zach Currier — with a goal in transition — and Taylor — with his second of the evening — countering the four goals netted by PCLC for an 8-5 lead at the intermission.
The second half saw momentum gathered from a Cook fight with PCLC big-guy Ryan McLean turn into a comeback bid for the Riggers.
First, Haiden Dickson scored in tight. Then in response to Jonathan Donville’s goal for the hosts, King got loose in tight to score his first of three. Jeff Cornwall then followed with a goal in transition, capping a play from Del Bianco up the floor to Shane Simpson and then into the slot to the NLL veteran defenceman. And King rounded out the third quarter with a goal to answer Crawford’s power-play marker for the home side.
The Roughnecks then capped the comeback in the final quarter, starting with King’s hat-trick goal from the perimeter, before veteran defender Curtis Manning gave the visitors their first lead since early in the game with a goal in transition.
PCLC replied with a Phil Caputo goal, but Cook took advantage of Herreweyers’ pick to put the Riggers back up for good. Dickson then netted his second of the contest when he ran into space and shot a ball home for insurance.
And they needed it after Nate Grenon’s goal moved the hosts back within a goal.
But Del Bianco shut the door the rest of the way, including a penalty-shot stop of Crawford after Manning was flagged for putting his hand on the ball in the crease with just 23 seconds left in regulation to save that first-time 13-win season..
“For me, it’s not like, ‘Hurrah, we got 12 wins — I can’t wait for 13,” Malawsky said. “Not a chance. That’s not my M.O.
“For us, we just want to get better. We’re learning lessons throughout the whole season. Sure, if you don’t get the wins, you don’t get in the playoffs. But we’ve been in (playoffs) with a 10-8 record, and we’ve been in with an 8-10 record years back.”
Speaking of playoffs, the decision keeps the Roughnecks — now 13-5 — in contention to finish first in the NLL’s West Conference. But to do that and guarantee themselves home-floor advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, they need the San Diego Seals to lose their final two games of the regular season.
Then it’s on to a deserving post-season appearance, starting likely against PCLC — now 10-8 — in the NLL quarterfinal slated for Saturday, May 6, on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome (7:30 p.m.).
“It’s amazing,” added Roughnecks veteran Dan Taylor. “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a ton of credit at the start of the year and whether that puts a little chip on your shoulder or not, I know the guys really responded and we just did our did our jobs. Everybody bought in, and we had one of the premier years in Calgary Roughnecks history, so that’s pretty special.”
Another week, another Roughnecks lineup without D Mitch Wilde (lower body) and T Ethan Ticehurst (lower body), as they both remained sidelined by injury for Friday’s game … Scratches for the contest were D Kieran McKay and F Dylan McIntosh … The Saturday night NLL slate pits: the New York Riptide (8-12) at the Halifax Thunderbirds (8-8), the Georgia Swarm (8-8) at the Rochester Knighthawks (9-7); the Toronto Rock (13-4) at the Buffalo Bandits (12-4) in a battle for first place in the East Conference; the Mammoth at the Saskatchewan Rush (6-10); and the Desert Dogs (5-11) at the Seals … Sunday’s only game sees the Philadelphia Wings (7-9) visit the Albany FireWolves (3-13).
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