January 11, 2012

Calgary's Comeback Win First Big Statement of New NLL Season

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Reigning league MVP Jeff Shattler was one of many Calgary transition players that helped the Roughnecks take out defending MLL champion Toronto on Sunday night.
© Larry Palumbo

The startling thing about Calgary's 12-9 win in Toronto to open the 2012 NLL season was how it was accomplished.

The Roughnecks yielded the first five goals and then launched an overpowering attack. In doing so, they proved they have the speed needed to successfully adapt to the non-stop pace encouraged by revised rules. As they left the floor, anybody who'd witnessed what occurred would agree they have a lineup capable of going all the way.

''We battled back as a championship team should,'' said 2011 league MVP Jeff Shattler, whose reins have been loosened so he can attack more often in his transition role. ''At halftime everyone got together and said, 'It's time to get going. We didn't come all this way for nothing.' We owned the second half.''

It was 8-8 when the fourth quarter began and Scott Ranger fired in two in a row to make it 10-8, sending the 'Necks in front to stay.

''We showed a lot of confidence in each other and that's going to count for a lot as the season goes along,'' said Ranger.

Shawn Evans scored twice at a critical juncture in the third quarter. It was an impressive debut with his new team after playing his first six years for Rochester. He's an impact player, which is why Calgary gave up the No. 5 slot at the 2011 entry draft to get him.

''We've all got the same goal, to win the Champion's Cup, and we're going to do whatever it takes to get it done,'' said Evans.

Shattler, Geoff Snider, Curtis Manning, Nolan Heavenor, Pete McFetridge and rookie Travis Cornwall are Calgary's transition players. Head coach Dave Pym looks to them to get the ball up the floor faster than anybody else.

Ranger, Evans, Dane Dobbie, Daryl Veltman, 2011 rookie of the year Curtis Dickson, Cory Conway, Kaleb Toth and Geoff McNulty are the forwards who weave plays designed by offensive co-ordinator Curt Malawsky.

Calgary and Washington scored the most goals last year. We'll see how the Stealth fare when they clash at home with the 'Necks on Saturday. But the explosive capabilities of Shattler and Co. were clearly evident in Toronto.

The way the defense bore down to shut down the Rock after the first quarter was another impressive aspect of the 'Necks big opening-night win. Goaltender Mike Poulin was exceptional and the defense corps of Andrew McBride, Mike Carnegie, Jon Harnett, Dan MacRae, Mike Kilby and rookie Greg Harnett allowed Toronto to get only eight shots on Poulin in the fourth quarter.

The cozy comforts of new ownership by the NHL's Calgary Flames haven't induced the players to become complacent. They appear to be as hungry as ever.

Look at Calgary's last three seasons: 12-4 regular season and Champion's Cup winners in 2009; 10-6 and a first-round playoff upset to Edmonton in 2010; and 11-5 before a two-goal loss to Washington in the 2011 West Division final.

This is a consistent contender, and Shattler has emerged from it all as one of the sport's most dynamic two-way stars. He's only 27.

It's interesting to look back at how he wound up with Calgary with all of one NLL game under his belt.

He was drafted 10th overall by Buffalo in 2005. It was a deep draft. Brodie Merrill was the No. 1 pick and Evans went No. 2. Luke Wiles, Matt Vinc, Dan Carey and Jeff Zywicki, all established vets today, were selected ahead of Shattler.

Shattler got into one game with the Bandits. That was in 2006, which is when they traded him and a second-round draft pick (Jamie Lincoln, now with Colorado) to the Roughnecks for Kevin Dostie. The Bandits got what they needed, a productive forward who helped them win the Champion's Cup in 2008, but serious injuries forced Dostie out of the pro game in 2009.

Meanwhile, Shattler is only just approaching his prime years. His breakout 2011 season saw him score 29 goals and assist on 46 for 75 points. He also was a key player for the Iroquois Nationals when they won silver at the world indoor championships in Prague last May.

He's an awesome athlete on a team that was collectively awesome on opening night.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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