NLL Friday Recap: Church, Del Bianco Put Up Stellar Performances On Opening Night

(Photo Courtesy of NLL)

The 2019-20 NLL season got started off to a great start with Calgary, Colorado, Saskatchewan, and Vancouver all suiting up on Friday night to kick off Faceoff Weekend. 

Saskatchewan 9, Colorado 8 (Box Score)

Behind an eight-point (3G/5A) performance by Robert Church, the Saskatchewan Rush avenged a season-ending loss to the Colorado Mammoth in the Western Semifinals last season, edging them in a very tightly contested defensive battle on Friday night to open the season. 

Church got Saskatchewan going with two goals almost ten minutes apart to put Saskatchewan up 2-0 with 11:39 in the first quarter. Ryan Lee got the Colorado scoring started with a fantastic dunk from behind the net. Kyle Killen tied things up at 2 to end the first quarter, scoring a power-play goal with 13 seconds left in the quarter. 

While Mark Matthews was able to answer for Saskatchewan early in the second, Colorado was able to sprint out to a 5-3 lead midway through the third with Chris Wardle, Joey Cupido, and Eli “Liger” McLaughlin scoring three straight. Following a Ben McIntosh goal to get Saskatchewan’s offense going again, Ryan Keenan tied things up at 5 heading into the half with a goal late in the quarter. 

Chris Wardle scored a one-timer off a feed from Jacob Ruest to start the third quarter and put Colorado back in the driver’s seat. However, a four-goal Saskatchewan run that lasted from early in the third through early in the fourth helped give Saskatchewan the momentum they need to finish them one out, putting them up 9-6 early in the fourth. 

Jacob Ruest scored two goals in the fourth, including a power-play goal with early in the quarter, to help spark a fire in this Colorado team. Despite some prime opportunities late in the game, Evan Kirk came up huge in net for Saskatchewan and an errant pass gave Saskatchewan the ball back late and allowed them to run out the clock. 

In addition to Church’s eight-points, Evan Kirk made 34 saves off of 42 shots on goal to help anchor the Rush defense. Colorado was led by Jacob Ruest with five points (3G/2A) and Ryan Lee with three points (2G/1A). In goal, Dillon Ward made 54 saves off of 63 shots on goal. 

Calgary 12, Vancouver 7 (Box Score)

Defending champions Calgary Roughnecks started their title defense with a 12-7 win over the Vancouver Warriors on Friday night. Christian Del Bianco was unreal for Calgary in the win, making 63 saves off of 70 shots on goal. 

Dane Dobbie started the scoring for Calgary at the 5:48 mark in the first quarter. Calgary then scored three more in a row to take a 4-0 lead early. Vancouver finally got their offense going with Keegan Bal and Logan Schuss scoring late in the first. However, Dane Dobbie netted his second of the game to end the first and put Calgary up 5-2. 

Dobbie earned himself a hat trick early in the second and Zach Currier followed, netting one to help put Calgary up 7-2 early in the second quarter. The Roughnecks continued to dominate through the third quarter, taking a 10-4 lead heading to the fourth. 

While Vancouver was able to get some garbage goals late in the game to eventually trim the score to 12-7 as the final buzzer sounded, the fourth quarter was marred by some very chippy play from both sides. The physicality peaked at the 9:35 in the fourth when a big hit from Vancouver’s Chris O’Dougherty on Calgary’s Eli Salama sparked a scrum that ended with Logan Schuss and Zach Currier dropping the gloves

Offensively, Tyler Pace led Calgary with five points (3G/2A) while Curtis Dickson also had five points (2G/3A). Vancouver was led by Mitch Jones with five points (2G/3A) while Eric Penny made 37 saves off of 49 shots on goal. 

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