June 1, 2014

Calgary's Great Run Halts Short of NLL Crown

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Calgary went on a great postseason run to lead late against Rochester, but the Knighthawks rallied to take home the title. (Larry Palumbo)

Photo Gallery | Rochester Captures Crown

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - An overtime win over Colorado in the first round of the NLL playoffs, their compelling elimination of first overall Edmonton in extra time in the West final, and a 10-7 victory at home over defending-champion Rochester in the first game of the league final had the Calgary Roughnecks believing they were going to win the Champion's Cup for the third time in franchise history.

''I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't think there was destiny on our side,'' says head coach Curt Malawsky.

But the Knighthawks tied the home-and-home set with a 16-10 Game 2 win at home Saturday night and they won 3-2 with a late rally in the ensuing 10-minute extra session called for in the new format to walk away with their third straight title. Calgary was, oh, so close.

The Roughnecks were up 2-0 in the minigame with three minutes remaining. Their confidence had been building for three exhilarating weeks.

''We got the last shot in the Colorado game,'' said Malawsky. ''Then everybody was writing us off when we were going to play Edmonton.''

Calgary won the opener against the Rush and, despite falling behind 11-2 in the second game, staged an incredible rally to lose by only two.

''Talk about character,'' said Malawsky. ''Never seen that in my life. We battled back. We never give up. We catch them in the mini and then we come up against Rochester and everybody is counting us out again. I think this team was counted out from the start.

''I think that's what the special thing is: it didn't matter what everybody else thought. Our motto was Remember Who We Are. That was the big thing. We believe in ourselves. I think that's why the guys are so upset because they honestly believed destiny was on our side (Saturday night in Rochester). With two minutes and 14 seconds remaining, I thought it was, too. It's tough to swallow but we'll get through it together.''

Craig Point scored the winning goal for Rochester with 59 seconds remaining. Calgary put on a late push but Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc made a huge save just before time expired, and the 'Necks were done.

''We battled all year together,'' said Shawn Evans, recalling regular-season wins achieved after six- and eight-goal deficits. ''We have no quit, no give up.

''We battled back all year. In the playoffs, we thought destiny was on our side, that things were going to go our way. Two OT wins to get here and we're that close to taking it all. That's why it's hard to swallow but it's one of those life lessons you learn. You've got to learn the hard way sometimes. Something is so close but you can't reach it, you can't get there.''

The players were in disbelief after allowing the three Rochester goals in a minute and 15 seconds of the minigame that killed their hopes and dreams.

''We've got nothing to be ashamed of,'' Malawsky added during a post-game news conference. ''Our guys battled and competed hard.

''It could have gone either way. We were two minutes and 14 seconds away from being successful.''

Malawsky gave the new format, which replaced the previous single-game eliminations, a stamp of approval.

''I do believe a true champion comes out of the format,'' he said. ''I support it even though we're on the losing end of it. We battled hard. We get a big stop with 2:14 to go and have two possessions to kill and I like our chances of killing that.

''That's what is exciting about lacrosse. A game can turn in a split second. Tonight it did and we were on the short end of the stick. It's a tough pill to swallow.''

Calgary brass and players were swallowing pill after pill in their post-game comments.

''We just weren't able to seal the deal on the defensive end,'' said captain Andrew McBride.

No teams has won a playoff game in Rochester since 2004, but the 'Necks believed they could buck that trend.

''It's an electric barn,'' said McBride. ''We started the minigame well. But that's what champions do. They battled through. It's a tough pill to swallow. We've been battling since December, to have it end like that . . .

''In this league, everybody has other jobs but still makes the commitment. It's not like any other sport in the world in that sense. We're not full-time guys. We don't get paid a lot of money. I don't think the average fan knows that. It's not a lot. I'm proud of the guys on this team. We made friendships that will last forever. We went on this journey together. It's tough to go into that locker room and look everyone in the eye because you feel that you let guys down. But it is what it is.''

''When all is said and done, we played hard to the end but, unfortunately, we're one goal short. It's tough,'' said Evans.

The last frenzy made for nailbiting time.

''We came pretty close _ one goal short,'' added Evans. ''We had a couple of shots at the end and Vinc made a couple of saves. Congratulations Rochester.

''They're a good team. We knew what they were going to throw at us. We knew (Dan) Dawson was going to be in the lineup. Unfortunately, a few things didn't go our way. It's tough to swallow.''

Rochester has won three straight championships since trading Evans to Calgary for the first-round draft pick the 'Hawks used to get Johnny Powless.

''We lost to the best team in the NLL _ simple as that,'' said Malawsky. ''They deserved to take it.

''Is it a missed opportunity for us? Absolutely. We got beat by a better team. That's just the way it is. I'm proud of the way our guys competed. We started back in December and we grew as a group and as a family. I can't be more proud to lead this group of men down the road because they're special. You've got to hold your head high when you lose. It's a cliché but I really believe these men should hold their heads high. We were two minutes 14 seconds away. I can't be more proud of the Calgary Roughnecks and the organization. You've got to lose a few times before you win. We're still believing in each other.''

The Roughnecks lost the NLL final but they didn't lose their reputation as one of the very best teams in indoor pro lacrosse. There was a distinct touch of class in all of their post-game comments. They'll be back next season and opponents had better be prepared because they'll be hard to beat.

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