Monday, March 4, 2024

Calgary Roughnecks snap three-game skid with road win over NLL Rock

‘Massive’ victory on road snaps three-game losing skid in NLL

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The Calgary Roughnecks went into Saturday night sitting somewhere between the Toronto Rock and a hard place.

That is … last place in the National Lacrosse League standings, with the first-place Rock threatening to push them closer to the bottom end.

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So getting the win — which they did in dominant and dramatic fashion — felt mandatory heading into the Hamilton-hosted NLL tilt.

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“Yeah … it was massive,” said Roughnecks defender Harrison Matsuoka, who was pivotal in the 11-10 victory at the FirstOntario Centre. “You know … it’s all about wins in this league, especially with the new format with there being no conferences. And we knew that we should have deserved at least one win last weekend with how we played and we just didn’t get the bounces.

“So there’s a little bit of extra fire in our bellies, and it definitely showed.”

Indeed, the Roughnecks (3-5) snapped a three-game losing skid — which included dropping two at home last Friday and last Saturday — with a fantastic effort and firepower from all over the place, including a surprising two goals each from quiet back-end guys Harrison Matsuoka and Robert Hudson.

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“It was definitely a good night for me,” said Matsuoka of the rematch seven days after the Rock nipped the Roughnecks 9-7 at the Rough House. “It felt good to help the team out in this win.

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“Obviously, it’s still a tough roster to crack,” continued the Calgary native, who is in his third season with the Riggers. “We’ve got so much depth on this team. So I’m just happy that I’m kind of coming into my own a little bit and I’m able to help us get some wins and get us back on the right track here.”

Captain Jesse King had a loud two markers, as well, as part of a team-high five-point night against the Rock (6-2).

And teammate and goaltender Christian Del Bianco was also noisy in the tilt, stopping 44 balls and adding to the Riggers’ offence with a beauty long-range pass up the floor on Matsuoka’s second goal of the evening — part of a 4-0 third-quarter flurry that spelled the difference in the contest.

“Now we’re playing good hard Roughnecks ball that fans are used to,” Matsuoka said. “And it’s paying dividends for us. We’re just super-pumped about our performance.”

The Riggers never trailed in the game, drawing first blood — on King’s first of the night, as part of a 4-2 first quarter. Hudson’s first career NLL goal was the capper of the frame, after the Rock allowed the newcomer to the Roughnecks to score with goalie Nick Rose pulled for an extra attacker late.

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The error by the Rock, who didn’t use up enough of the time-clock during what should have been the final possession of the half, and Hudson’s big moment — in front of friends and family from his nearby hometown of Oakville, Ont., no less — turned out to be oh-so significant in the end.

“We had a lot of help out the back end,” Matsuoka said. “And it’s always awesome to see a new guy not only score his first goal on the team but score his first goal of his career.”

The Roughnecks got second-quarter goals from Haiden Dickson — who battled hard to score in tight — and Shane Simpson — for the team’s third transition goal of the first half — to take a 6-5 lead into halftime.

Then came arguably the most important quarter of the schedule for the Roughnecks, as they tallied four answered third-quarter goals — with one more each from Hudson and Matsuoka — both again in transition — and Josh Currier and King adding one apiece to give them a 10-5 stranglehold.

“With Hudson putting up two and my two and Simmer getting a goal and Delbs firing a ball up and helping out, it was a great team effort coming out of the back end,” Matsuoka said. “It helped our offence get going there.”

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But the Rock roared back in the final stanza with four goals, including a fourth and a fifth on the night from star Corey Small.

The only fourth-quarter answer the Roughnecks offered came from Thomas Hoggarth, when he took Pace’s crafty pass in tight and scored.

However, that goal was massive, turning out to be the winning counter despite two more goals and additional threats to tie the game were thwarted by Del Bianco and the Riggers’ defence late.

Dramatic when it didn’t need to be, for sure.

“That’s alright, though,” Matsuoka said. “We wouldn’t want it any other way. We knew the Rock were going to punch us in the face back there, and we just kind of weathered the storm. They’re a great team, obviously, being top of the league, and we knew that they would give it a good shot against us, but we just beared down and stuck to our game, and we were able to come away with it.

“All we needed was one, and it’s nice to get it on the road, especially here in Toronto with a lot of our Ontario guys in front of home fans.”

Now it’s back home to play the Halifax Thunderbirds (5-3) on Sunday on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome (5 p.m., TSN+).

“It’s a huge win, and we’re just going to go on a roll now,” Hudson told NLL.com post-game. “It feels really good.

“It was great (to score two goals). Happy to be back in the lineup. It was awesome.”

QUICK STICKS

The Roughnecks were without D Eli Salama (lower body), a key defensive cog and the team’s alternate captain … That boosted D Kieran McKay to the active roster … But McKay and rookie D Bennett Smith were scratched ahead of the contest.

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

http://www.x.com/ToddSaelhofPM

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