Do you smell that? That’s the smell of history being made, with a dash of fresh Southern California air. That’s right, for the first time in NLL history, there was a game played outdoors. Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California played host to the Stadium Showdown between the Seals and the Las Vegas Desert Dogs.
There is much to unpack, so we’ll start with the results. San Diego used a big second half to win the first outdoor game in league history 15-12.
Let’s get some things out of the way before we get into the game. First and foremost, both teams arrived in style. San Diego paid homage to the Padres, as they donned the “City Connect” jerseys that the Padres wear during the regular season. On the other side, the Desert Dogs showed up in typical Vegas-themed outfits, some even dressed as Elvis himself. Next: the stadium, the setup, the lights and sounds, were amazing. It had Super Bowl vibes written all over it. Finally, some players chose to wear eye black under their eyes, as the sun was shining for a good majority of the game. Some outdoor lacrosse vibes in a NLL game never hurt nobody. It was a comfortable 55 degrees at the opening faceoff, let’s get to it.
Las Vegas came out of the gates hot, as they notched the first two goals, one from Jon Phillips and the other from Reid Reinholdt in transition. Phillips and the Dogs better hold on tight to that ball, as it will go down in history as the first goal ever scored in an outdoor NLL game. San Diego had the home crowd behind them, and they used that to pop off a four-goal run as a response. Goal scorers for the Seals were: Mac O’Keefe, Curtis Dickson, Casey Jackson and Dane Dobbie. O’Keefe’s was vintage as he fired a low-to-high laser past Landon Kells. Curtis Dickson showcased a fantastic individual effort and both Jackson and Dobbie’s were on the powerplay. Charlie Bertrand rattled off two straight for Vegas to tie it up 4-4 after one. Something to note, San Diego goaltender Christopher Origlieri was pulled from the game after just 12:08 of game time. The young netminder made two saves on six shots.
The deadlock continued for a good majority of the second quarter. Connor Kirst gave Vegas the lead back, only to be answered by Tre Leclaire, who scored a sweet goal in transition. Bertrand got his hat trick, but was answered by Dobbie’s second on the power play. Bertrand’s third was an interesting goal, as he wound up from deep, and rang it off both pipes. It was challenged and deemed inconclusive, so the goal stood. The Seals got their lead back, as Leclaire and Dickson each got their second. Jack Hannah cut the deficit for Vegas with a powerplay goal of his own in the final minute. 8-7 San Diego going into the half.
It demands respect that goaltenders in our league are the world’s best. They face a ton of shots, from all different angles and speeds. Oh, and that’s when they’re indoors. Now add a bright California sun to the mix, and that amplifies the task at hand. Both goalies were hip to the task. Kells was stellar, and frankly kept Vegas within arms reach of the Seals. The youngster stopped 21 of 29, and called the experience “surreal.”
“It’s something that I never thought, as box lacrosse goalie, especially, that I would be able to take part in,” Kells said. “The atmosphere at Snapdragon and the 8500 fans that were in attendance made it something that was a once in a lifetime experience. It was really something special to be part of.”
On the other side, Frank Scigliano came in at the end of the first and stood right on his head. The Seals’ netminder made eight saves on 13 shots.
“We know these guys have been playing well as of late,” said Dickson at the break. “They’re a hungry team, and this is a special game for both sides. We have to figure out a way to stretch this lead out here in the second half.”
San Diego coach Patrick Merrill said his team had to stay out of the box to separate themselves in the second half.
“It’s kind of a playoff atmosphere, it’s a unique experience that both teams are feeding off it. I think it’s going to be one of those ones that comes down to the wire.”
Merrill was correct on both of those accounts. San Diego took only one penalty in the second half, and this back-and-forth battle continued. Hannah started the third quarter the way he finished the second, notching his second goal of the game on the power play with an absolute bullet. Austin Staats finally hit the back of the net to give the Seals the lead back. Zack Greer swayed the momentum with a sick head fake, getting his first against his former team. Marshal King scored next for the Dogs with a sick one-handed rebound that led to his first of the game. San Diego saw enough, and rattled off two straight to end the quarter. Goals were by Dobbie, his third and Wesley Berg, his first. Spoiler, this San Diego momentum spilled over into the fourth. 11-10 Seals going into the fourth.
San Diego broke it open and really took control in the fourth. Berg started the party off with his second of the game, and was followed by two-straight powerplay goals from Jackson, giving him his hat trick. Five unanswered from the Seals, which wins ya games. Las Vegas made it interesting with two of their own from Greer and Rob Hellyer. But, that’d be it for the Dogs’ comeback. Dickson got his hat trick in the final few minutes, and that’d be all she wrote. Your final from Snapdragon, 15-12 Seals. For San Diego, it was time to pose in those cool custom uniforms and with that even cooler Stadium Showdown trophy, under the SoCal sun.
Players of the game for Las Vegas were Betrand (3+1), Hannah (2+3) and Greer (2+3). Kells was a brick wall all game, minus that cruel five-goal run. The netminder made 38 saves on 53 shots on the afternoon. As for San Diego, Dickson (3+6), Jackson (3+1) and Dobbie (3+1) led the way. Staats also threw in a casual six points. Scigliano was sparkling all game, especially down the stretch. He made 30 saves on 38 shots.
“I think our offense was good as a whole,” said Dickson postgame. “We were moving the ball well, we were finding open looks, everyone was just burying the ball today. We knew we couldn’t look past these guys, we knew they’d put up a fight, but we scrapped it out.”
Dickson is a former teammate of Landon Kells from their time in Calgary.
“I knew what calibre of player Dickson was,” Kells said. “But you never really respect how good a player like that is until you play against him and you realize just how special a talent he is. Because at any given moment he can get a scoring opportunity. Playing with a player like that is truly eye opening especially in an atmosphere like this.”
San Diego (7-2) sits in first place in the West Conference. They travel to Saskatchewan to take on the Rush (5-5) this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Las Vegas (4-6) needs to have a short memory with this one if they want to increase their chances at the playoffs. They travel home to host Vancouver (2-9) on Saturday at 10:30 p.m.
The season is coming down to the wire, with teams starting to jockey for playoff seeding. It should be a fun rest of the way. Finally, kudos to anyone involved in the first ever Stadium Showdown, as we all hope this is something that is played for many years to come.