NLL: Strong start to sophomore season in Panther City

Nick Damude of the Panther City Lacrosse Club. (Photo: NLL)

Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas was bumpin’ Friday night as the boys were back in town. Panther City Lacrosse Club, in their second season, opened up at home against the new guys, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. There was a ton of buzz around PCLC going into this season, as they finished last year red-hot and have a ton of young talent and a ferocious head coach in Tracey Kelusky.

Now, on the other side of the coin, you have the boys from Sin City. The Desert Dogs would look to start the year with a bang, and put the league on notice right from game one. This is going to be fun.

While yes, the expression goes, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, Friday night PCLC proved to the Dogs that “everything is bigger in Texas.” In a close game throughout, PCLC snuck past Las Vegas, 13-11. Let’s get to the action.

The first three quarters saw quite a bit of scoring. It’s always pretty cool when a franchise comes into a league and nets their first goal in franchise history. Definitely one of those moments that make us appreciate this great sport. Las Vegas opened this one up with a bang, right off the opening draw. John Wagner scooped up a loose ball, drove in, and beat Nick Damude five-hole. PCLC didn’t let Las Vegas enjoy that moment for long, as they rattled off two straight, one from Will Malcolm and the other from Phil Caputo on the power play. Las Vegas, just like they were at a casino at home, said we see your two, and raise you two. The Desert Dogs answered right back with goals from Rob Hellyer and Jon Phillips. Phillips’ goal was the first of his career and was a shorthanded tally. PCLC answered right back, however, as Malcolm got his second and Nathan Grenon notched his first of this young season. 4-3 PCLC after one. Whew, catch your breath.

PCLC continued their momentum as a pair of Liams scored to open the second quarter. Liam Patten was first, which was on the power play, and shortly thereafter, Liam Byrnes found the back of the net. Surely, Las Vegas did not want to fall behind too badly going into the half. What’s the answer? Three straight. Jack Hannah notched two, one of which was on the power play, and Sam Firth got his first. All of a sudden we’re tied back up at six apiece. Right before the half, both clubs traded one more goal each, one from Patrick Dodds and one from Jacob Ruest. All tied up 7-7 after two.

There was a ton of phenomenal transition play in the first half, plenty of scoring, and tough defense. Las Vegas goaltender Joel Watson stopped 20 of 27. On the other side, Nick Damude made some timely saves in the first half, especially on penalty kills. The young net minder stopped 12 of 19.

The third quarter was all PCLC. They outscored Las Vegas 6-2 in the frame and did it with what looked like a little bit of ease. Malcolm started off the third with a bang, notching his third and fourth goals of the night, just about two minutes apart. Las Vegas stopped the bleeding for a moment, as Phillips got his second, but that stoppage was short-] lived. Cameron Wengreniuk scored his first, and Caputo got his second.

Just seconds after Caputo’s second goal, forwards Jackson Subach and Nate Wade had a bit of a disagreement and settled it with their fists. Cooler heads prevailed, but it seemed as though that was the final momentum boost needed for PCLC. Caputo got his hat trick with 1:17 left in the quarter. Erik Turner and Josh Medeiros traded goals with under 30 seconds left, to make it 13-9 going into the final frame.

Something to watch going into the fourth, after Medeiros’ goal, Las Vegas replaced Watson in net with 21 year old Landon Kells. Tough task for the kid to keep them in the game.

Allow me to remind you about one of my opening statements. The fourth quarter was the one of the four that did not see a lot of scoring. Two goals were scored in the quarter, both by Las Vegas. That’s your spoiler as to how this one ended. Reid Reinholdt scored at the 10:43 mark and Wagner got his second with 4:56 left. Don’t get it mixed up, there was still a ton of action in between those two goals, with timely defense and bigger stops, especially by Kells. Kudos to the young goaltender for keeping the Desert Dogs alive and stopping all 12 shots he saw. Your final in this one, 13-11 Panther City Lacrosse Club.

Players of the game for PCLC were Will Malcolm (4+3), Patrick Dodds (1+4) and Phil Caputo (3+4). Damude was solid for a good majority of the game, stopping 30 of 41 on the night. As for Las Vegas, Rob Hellyer (1+3), Jon Phillips (2+2) and John Wagner (2+2) led the way. Watson stopped 25 of 38 before his removal in the third quarter.

PCLC head coach Tracey Kelusky, addressed the team being 1-0.

“It feels good,” he said. “The best part about being 1-0 is the guys are not content. There was a lot of guys [not satisfied] – guys were certainly excited we won, but going in [the locker room], guys were maybe a little disappointed with some of our decisions and some of our game play. That was a good Vegas team. They worked hard. They worked really hard. They came out guns blazing. Being an expansion team we know what that looks like. You have to earn everything and dig for it and they certainly did that. I like the fact that our guys were not content with just coming away with the two points. 1-0 is great, but we certainly have a lot of work to do.”

These two teams should know each other really well after this week, as Panther City Lacrosse Club travels to Las Vegas for a rematch, December 16th at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and