Slow start tests mettle of Curtis Dickson

slow-start-tests-mettle-of-curtis-dickson

It’s the No. 1 question in the National Lacrosse League right now: What’s wrong with Curtis Dickson? Pegged as a favourite to lead the league in goal-scoring this season, the explosive righty has just three goals in four games and hasn’t scored more than one in any of those contests. To put that into context, he’s currently listed on the NLL website as 46th in goal-scoring. Some players with more goals currently than Superman: Vancouver rookie forward Tyler Digby has eight goals this season; Buffalo defender Steve Priolo has five; and Wings rookie forward Garrett Thul has five.

Rush captain Chris Corbeil (a defender with only 20 goals in 55 career games) also has three goals, courtesy of a hat-trick against the Roughnecks Friday night. Dickson — who finished third in league scoring in 2013 with 42 goals in the regular season, behind John Grant Jr. (43) and league leader Rhys Duch (45) — is just sixth in Roughnecks scoring now, behind Dane Dobbie (14), Jeff Shattler (11), Geoff Snider (5), and Daryl Veltman (4) and Shawn Evans (4).

So again we ask: What’s wrong with Curtis Dickson?

“It’s just a bit of a slow start,” answered Dickson. “Everyone goes through slumps sometime in their career. I don’t know if it’s teams adapting to me or me just not coming into the season 100% ready to go. I think last game I played a lot better than I had the first three. I had a lot of chances and played with a lot more intensity than I did the first three games. It’s just a matter of putting the ball in the back of the net now. It’s starting to come around. I’m getting there.”

The slow start has led some to wonder if Dickson is battling an injury or still recovering from one?

“Summer lacrosse is pretty brutal, but just some bumps and bruises, things that kind of lingered through the off-season while I was trying to get back to 100%,” said Dickson. “So maybe I didn’t get as much off-season training as I would have liked to but I can’t really blame a whole lot on that.”

While every player in every sport goes through slumps, as Dickson mentioned, four games is an eternity for an offensive lacrosse star like No. 17. Sure the season expanded to 18 games, but four games is basically the quarter-pole.

Dickson had an incredibly strong finish to the 2013 NLL season, scoring seven second-half goals against the Stealth in Calgary’s playoff loss in one of the best offensive performances in league history. He followed that up by scoring 58 goals and 103 points in 17 games with the Maple Ridge Burrards to lead all WLA scorers, 6 points ahead of second-place Cory Conway in points and 16 goals ahead of Corey Small, who played one extra game.

This NLL season it seemed all but a given he’d score 50 goals with a few extra games to play, maybe even take a run at 60.
Instead, he finds himself charting new territory mired in this slump.

“I’ve never really had to deal with it before,” he admitted. “I’ve always scored at every level I’ve been at so it’s something new I have to deal with. It’s something that hopefully will show some of my maturity. Something I have to deal with, look past it and not get frustrated and just do what I know I can do and put the ball in the net.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Looking a little frustrated in the heat of battle, Dickson made a motion of throwing the monkey off his back after scoring against the Stealth Friday night at the Dome. But the fact he’s trying to find the positives in his current situation is sign enough of maturity. I ask if maybe going through this now will help his game longterm and make him a better player in the future?

“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Dickson. “It’s something every player will likely go through at one time or another. I’d rather have it now and learn to deal with it. It’s not the end of the world.”

One thing I’ve noticed this season — and already pointed out in this weekly column — is that Dickson is at his best when he starts from the ‘low post, goal-line extended’ area of the floor. His tremendous first step means that he often blows by defenders to get a shot or dive across the crease. They know what he’s going to do but still can’t stop him. Kind of like a basketball player (think Michael Jordan or Kobe) driving to the cage baseline. And just like those guys would often get fouled, Dickson often draws a penalty if he can’t make it to the net.

If the D man stays with him and pushes him out, he uses that underhand shot — like a fadeaway jumper — to get the ball on net. This season Dickson has often looked out of place, starting up high with the ball and even playing the shooter’s spot on the powerplay sometimes. My ILIndoor.com colleague Marty O’Neill, a master student of the game, went so far as to stay Dickson looked ‘lost’ on the floor in the opener.

“I kind of have been trying to switch it up this season knowing teams obviously know me and my tendencies with this being my fourth season now and having a pretty big season last year,” said Dickson. “So I figured maybe switch it up and throw them off, but obviously maybe that’s not working for me.”

“I don’t know if that’s something that will take a little while to get adjusted to or if I should just go back to what I’m used to, my bread and butter.”

Calgary’s offence as a whole, like Dickson, got off to a slow start this season but looked better against the Stealth giving him a little bit of breathing room as he tries to get his game back on track.

“The depth we have on our offence is pretty unbelievable, it’s unlike any other in the league,” said Dickson. “So I know even if I’m struggling we have four guys that are highly capable of putting the ball in the back of the net that I can lean back on. But, at the same time, I want to be there and start contributing to the offence. In time it will come. I’ll be back out there scoring.”

This Saturday the Roughnecks host the Mammoth at the Dome. It’s the second annual Superhero Night, created in honour of Dickson. Fans — the kids especially — are encouraged to dress up like their favourite superheroes, many sporting the famous S.

Sure would be the perfect night for a breakout performance from Dickson, wouldn’t it?

“I guess so,” said Dickson. “It is set up perfectly, eh?”

QUICK STICKS: Steve Priolo scored three goals on three shots in Buffalo’s 16-9 win over Colorado. He added an assist and four loose balls. Gotta think Priolo is the early favourite for transition player of the year at this point … Huge weekend for Jordan Hall as he scored four times in each game against the Swarm. He now sits second in points (28) and second in goals (15) in the NLL. Noticed he’s still wearing the Knighthawks blue shoes he had to wear out of necessity in the season-opener and expected to pay a team fine for doing so. Good luck charms now Jordan? … Is there anybody with a stick as hot as Dane Dobbie right now (Fellow southpaw Mark Matthews and Hall excluded)? The lefty has 12 goals in his last three games, including a game-high 5 in the win over the Stealth Saturday night. He has been the one consistent with the Riggers offence so far … The Knighthawks defenders deserve some of the credit for the ridiculously low 7.67 goals-against average Matt Vinc has. He’s only had to make 115 saves, good for seventh spot in that category (Evan Kirk is No. 1 with 183). To no surprise, when you keep the shots low Vinc can take care of the rest with a league-best .833 save percentage. Vinc was quoted in Travis Larner’s article on NLL.com saying: “I’m pretty spoiled back there with not only the system that we play — it’s great for a goalie — and the guys that are out in front of me. They do whatever it takes, whether it’s blocking shots, laying on the carpet, doing whatever it is. They play great team defense game in and game out.” No surprise the two-time defending champs are 3-0 … This headline on NLL.com really caught me off guard ‘Dhane Smith scores four as Bandits earn first-ever win at Pepsi Center.’ Not surprised by Smith’s offensive outburst, but really would have thought Buffalo would have had at least one win in Denver before … Knighthawks visit the Rush at Rexall on Feb. 1. Circle that one on your calendar. Early Champion’s Cup preview? … All Points Bulletin: Missing — Calgary’s transition game. They need to start creating offensive chances and scoring more and do less running to the bench or holding up in favour of the forwards. The teams that are winning in this league are getting production from the backend. It’s essential in today’s NLL and Calgary has the transition players who can put the ball in the net.

The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at ty.pilson@nllinsider.com or go to CalgarySun.com.

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