In their first ever meeting, it was the Calgary Roughnecks coming away with a 13-9 win over the visiting New York Riptide at Scotiabank Saddledome on February 8. A hat trick by Tyler Pace and a dominant transition game were just what Calgary needed to notch their first home win of the season and end a mini three-game losing streak. One of the main storylines leading up to this game was the return of long-time Roughneck and former captain Dan MacRae.
“It was a little different being on the other side of the floor for warmups,” said MacRae. “It was exciting leading up to it. It was a lot of emotion leading up to the week. You try to control it and turn it into some positives. The team here did a good job of rallying and using it as motivation for the whole group, so it was great that the coaches and the team did that for me.”
Coach Malawsky didn’t hold back during the postgame interview as he told reporters what MacRae had meant to this team.
“He’s always going to be a Roughneck. He’s part of that banner that went up. Not only is he a great player and great captain, he’s a really good person away from it. Guys really miss him. I personally miss him and it was nice to hug him at the end of the game.”
For the second straight contest, transition speedster Shane Simpson was a difference maker for the Riggers scoring two goals including a dazzler just 1:45 into the first. After being knocked to the turf by an illegal pick, Simpson jumped to his feet, took a pass from Curtis Manning and rocketed past the Riptide defenders. Approaching goalie Alex Buque, Simpson catapulted into the air like a fighter jet being launched off an aircraft carrier and soared across the crease. Fooling Buque with a hard, short-side fake, Simpson hung onto the ball and tucked it into a wide-open net before touching down with a somersault landing. Simpson’s effort was not lost on Malawsky.
“I thought Simpson was outstanding running up and down the floor. His compete level is contagious. Anytime you got a guy that wants to battle and compete so hard like Simmer, it brings everybody else up.”
Indeed, Simpson’s effort was contagious as the Roughnecks received a number of momentum generating plays throughout the evening. Rookie Haiden Dickson took on veteran fighter Andrew Suitor in the third quarter and held his own much to the admiration of his teammates. Next up, it was veteran Greg Harnett selflessly throwing himself in front of a shot and blocking it with his head. Another example came later in the game when Tyler Burton stripped Alex Woodall of the ball and dumped him to the ground right in front of the benches with a text book “can opener.”
Through six games, the Roughnecks had dealt with their fair share of adversity. Suspensions, injuries and losing streaks have all contributed to a difficult start for the reigning champs. After the game, Malawsky spoke about the resiliency of his team.
“We talked about being composed in key situations and you build that composure and then you become a resilient team. When you’re a resilient group, then you get belief. Those are some of the core values we believe in.”
Connor Kelly led the Riptide offense with four goals and an assist. Kelly was dangerous all night, consistently getting underneath the Calgary defense and driving to the net. Rookie Tyson Gibson looked impressive scoring twice and adding an assist. The Riptide defense limited Calgary superstar Curtis Dickson to just a single assist and played an overall solid game. Alex Woodall dominated in the faceoff circle and the Riptide won the loose ball battle. However, it was Calgary’s four goals in transition that proved to be the difference.
“We battled and we knew it was going to be a scrappy game,” said MacRae postgame. “Holding that team to five goals at the half, that was big. A lot of positives we’ll draw from – that’s what we’re doing this year. It’s a very young group and there are so many guys that are hungry to learn. Being one of the older guys on the team you’re seeing what you can do to pass on knowledge to guys.”
Next Saturday, the Riptide (1-8) will travel to the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia for a game against the Swarm (4-3). Calgary (3-4) gets yet another bye week and won’t play again until February 22 when they too will travel to Georgia to take on the Swarm.