NLL: Del Bianco backstops Roughnecks to important victory over Rock

Calgary Roughnecks fans wave a flag as the team celebrates a goal at the Air Canada Centre on February 3, 2018. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

They knew it couldn’t last forever, but it sure was nice to dream about.

After four games averaging 20+ goals per game, the Toronto Rock ran out of gas as they fell 16-8 to the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Calgary and Toronto always play each other hard no matter where they are in the standings. Calgary, losers of four in a row, came into the ACC looking for redemption for two losses to Toronto in 2017. Really, they were looking for redemption in the eyes of everyone who has doubted them this season.

Leading the charge was Christian Del Bianco, who picked up his first NLL win. Del Bianco played 19 seconds of one game in 2016 before cracking the roster full time in 2017, playing 192 minutes with an 0-3 record. Now he’s looking to challenge Frankie Scigliano for starts.

Christian Del Bianco of the Calgary Roughnecks picked up his first NLL win on February 3, 2018 over the Toronto Rock at the Air Canada Centre. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

“It took me long enough,” Del Bianco said. “My dad was giving me shit during the week, he said ‘you gotta win one!’ It’s a stepping stone. You want to keep the momentum going into the next game, taking one shot at a time and take it from there. It’s nice to just get the monkey off [my] back.”

Del Bianco made 47 saves on 55 shots, and while he was great, the Rock forwards just weren’t taking their best, or even well-advised, shots on him.

“We just thought we were going to out there and it was just going to happen,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “We weren’t willing to put in the effort to pay the price we needed to in order to be successful. Tonight we got what we deserved.”

Del Bianco was great, and the Riggers defensive core maybe even better, but Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie stole the show offensively.

Dickson led with four goals, but it was one of his two assists, a backhand to Dobbie, that had jaws dropping. After accepting the backhand pass, Dobbie then backhanded the ball into the net for the Roughnecks’ 11th goal of the game.

While he didn’t score, Roughnecks’ rookie Zach Currier had a big game, tallying four assists, but more importantly, shutting down Tom Schreiber.

Schreiber was limited to a goal and two assists, and that contributed to a long and, for the Rock at least, frustrating game. Both teams used both of their challenge flags and with penalties, the game took about two hours and 20 minutes to play.

Zach Currier cross checks Tom Schreiber. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

The Rock started well, but not great, and it set a precedent for the rest of the game. Dickson scored shorthanded 2:50 into the game to quiet Rock fans who wanted to see the start of another blowout. Brett Hickey evened the score on the same power play, but Calgary kept pushing, taking 2-1 and 3-2 leads, though the score was 3-3 after the first.

“We didn’t start out too great, but we made the stops when we needed to and we were scoring the goals when we needed to,” Del Bianco said. “I think that’s all we can try to do moving forward.”

Rob Hellyer went airborne to put the Rock up 6-4 in the second, put a laser glove-side by Del Bianco early in the third to give them a 7-5 lead, but that’s when they began to crumble. Outscored 11-2 in the second half, the Rock looked shell-shocked. Did Calgary slip something in the Rock’s Gatorade when they weren’t looking? Evan as the 10,344 fans in the stands did the wave, they were wondering, where’s the team that put up 21 goals against New England the week prior?

The Roughnecks scored twice on a spearing major to Adam Jones which tied the game. Schreiber’s only goal put the Rock up 8-7 but Riley Loewen tied the game again 1:14 later. Dickson’s low-to-high underhand rip with an extra-attacker on the floor with two seconds left in the third quarter ended up being the game winner.

“We got a little bit unglued and a little bit undisciplined and frustration started to show,” Saywer said. “It’s easy to play when you’re on the roll we’ve been on but the true tell of a team is how you come through when things aren’t working for you, and that was a test that we failed tonight.”

Calgary outscored Toronto 7-0 in the fourth. Their big guns came to play: Dobbie scored twice, Dickson, Wesley Berg and Holden Cattoni all found twine in the last 15 minutes.

Nick Rose didn’t play poorly. Eight goals are not enough to win an NLL game. Even with Rose pulled with over five minutes left, the Rock were unable to retain offensive possession or create any scoring chances against an energized Roughnecks’ defense.

Toronto Rock vs. Calgary Roughnecks, February 3, 2018. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

Calgary retains third place in the west over the Vancouver Stealth, 11-9 losers to the Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday. The Rock fall out of first place and sit half a game back of the New England Black Wolves, who had the weekend off.

Calgary was three for five on the power play while the Rock went one for three.

Curtis Dickson (4G/2A, Dane Dobbie (3G/2A), Riley Loewen (3G/2A), Holden Cattoni (2G/4A) and Wesley Berg (2G/4A) were all on fire for the Roughnecks. Rob Hellyer led the Rock with three goals and an assist with Adam Jones (1G/3A) and Tom Schreiber (1G/2A) also chipping in. Latrell Harris, Challen Rogers and Brett Hickey all had singles.

The Rock are in Rochester and the Roughnecks host the Colorado Mammoth next Saturday in key division matchups.