Dirty Dozen: Battle of Alberta heats up, Junior’s beauty of a goal for Colorado, and thanks for the memories, Jim Quinlan

Mark Matthews scored 4 goals to help Edmonton beat Calgary at home for the first time since 2010. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
Mark Matthews scored 4 goals to help Edmonton beat Calgary at home for the first time since 2010. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)

The Battle of Alberta has always been intense, if not lopsided. And maybe even a bit weird. The Calgary Roughnecks came into the 2014 National Lacrosse League season with a 23-5 record all-time against the Edmonton Rush, which illuminates the lopsided part. The weird? Edmonton is 2-0 all-time against Calgary in the playoffs. And while these numbers are bound to change over the years, the intensity probably will not. And that’s a good thing, at least for those of us behind the glass. The Rush laid a 15-8 whipping on the Roughnecks last week, which led to some chippy play and interesting observations from the involved parties afterward. And this is where we talk about the intense part of the rivalry.

When play resumed after Mark Matthews converted a penalty shot for the Rush in the fourth quarter, he was blasted into the boards by Calgary’s Geoff Snider.

“It was a bit of a late hit. They like to get into the rough stuff,” Matthews told EdmontonRush.com. “Not to name names or blame him for what he did, but … we stayed out of that stuff and we blew them away.”

Those aren’t words to exactly light a bonfire, but there’s enough there to keep the embers red and glowing. The Rush are out of the gate with a 3-0 record, while the Roughnecks are 2-2 for the fourth straight season. Yet it’s the Riggers who usually find themselves at the top of the West Division, or at least closer to the top than the Rush. Calgary has never finished lower than Edmonton in the standings, although both were 10-6 in 2010.

But 2014 has the look of something different. The Riggers got a lot of preseason love as a contender, and so did the Rush. They’ll butt heads 3 more times this season, but we have to wait until March 14 for that to happen again.

And when players are talking like they’re talking now, that March 14 showdown in Calgary can’t get here soon enough.

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Thanks, Q: What a nice tribute to Jimmy Quinlan on Friday night, who had his No. 81 raised to the rafters at Rexall Place. The former captain of the Edmonton Rush retired in the offseason and the team he helped build honored his service with a classy ceremony that included a heartwarming speech from Quinlan himself. The game will miss his heart as a player, but he remains close to it as a coach with the Rush.

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Honeymoon over? After drawing a nice crowd of more than 5,200 in the home opener on Jan. 11, the crowd on Friday was anything but for the Vancouver Stealth. The announced attendance of 2,981 left a lot of empty seats at the Langley Events Centre and it’s a real shame because that OT win over the Mammoth was one of the best games so far this NLL season. Here’s hoping the attendance picks up as the season rolls along. The market’s been clamoring for an NLL team and it got one, so now it’s time to get out and support it.

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Been there, done that: John Grant Jr.’s goal on Saturday against Vancouver was vintage Grant. Much like the goal he scored last season against Philadelphia, Junior found himself on his side, working 1-on-1 with a defender. The shot was underhanded, behind his legs and bounced into the goal past goalie Tyler Richards. It was an amazing display of skill, not to mention the split-second decision that was made on the run. Junior, of course, would trade that goal for a few more Mammoth victories but for now, we’ll marvel at the work of this elite shooter.

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Monkey be gone: He scored 42 goals last season but Curtis Dickson game into Saturday’s game against Vancouver with just 2 goals in 3 games. So yeah, he was gripping. He had to wait until the third quarter on Saturday, but he finally scored to snap his skid and the relief was apparent. In celebrating the goal, he reached back and pulled an imaginary monkey off his back. Scoring droughts are frustrating, without a doubt, especially for a guy who scores as regularly as Dickson. Opponents beware, though. The beast is now awake.

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He said it: “It’s truly beyond my belief that it’s taken place in my hometown, in front of my friends and family. I guess now I’ll remember this day as more than Muhammad Ali’s birthday.”

Jimmy Quinlan, in his address to fans on Saturday as his No. 81 jersey was lifted to the rafters before Saturday’s win over Calgary.

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A Major draft: Major Series Lacrosse conducted its draft last weekend and seeing Rob Hellyer go No. 1 overall to the Oakville Rock, where he’ll have some familiar NLL faces to work with, wasn’t a surprise. He’ll be a nice addition to a team that already has Stephan Leblanc and could have other new faces in Nick Rose and Adam Jones. Brampton beefed up its defense with some solid runners and the selection of Alexis Buque at the end of the first round — last year’s OLA Junior Goalie of the Year and a Minto Cup champ — could set the stage for a seamless transition once Anthony Cosmo decides he’s finished.

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Savvy Stealth: While the Vancouver Stealth deal with some injury issues on the back end with captain Kyle Sorensen on IR and Jeff Moleski and Justin Salt a bit banged up, there aren’t as many worries up front. Especially with the play of rookie Tyler Digby. Today, it’s hard to believe he lasted until the third round of last fall’s entrydraft, although the possibility of him chasing a CFL career may have scared off teams. The Stealth took a chance, though, and the dividends have been massive. He’s the leading scorer among all rookies (8 goals, 5 assists for 13 points) and more than one NLL exec has praised his poise, soft hands and quiet determination as being adifference-maker for the Stealth.

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Speaking of the Stealth: Yanks know their place when it comes to box lacrosse: It’s your game, Canada. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to root for Americans who made a name for themselves on the field and are genuinely eager to give the box a go. Josh Hawkins was one of those guys, waiting patiently for his turn with the Stealth out of training camp. He got it last week with a start against Colorado, then found out he was cut on Monday. Will he get another chance? Time will tell. He’s got the athletic ability, so here’s hoping he sticks with it, gets another chance and we see him back in the NLL real soon.

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He said it too: “I couldn’t ask for anything better. I get to bounce so much off of him. I ask him, ‘What would you do in this situation? What would we do here last year?’ I’d say most of the time that doesn’t happen, so to inherit the ‘C’ and to still have Jimmy around to lean on is great.”

– Rush captain Chris Corbeil, to the Edmonton Journal, on his transition into captaincy while having former captain Jimmy Quinlan on the bench as a defensive coach.

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Help! The news came late Thursday that the Minnesota Swarm, hungry for offensive help this season, swung a trade with the Edmonton Rush for left-hander Dane Stevens in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2014. Stevens hasn’t played NLL ball since 2011, but he crafted a fine summer with the Burnaby Lakers in 2013, where current Swarm forward Scott Jones was a teammate. Steven also logged a bit of Junior A time in Delta with current Swarm forward Logan Schuss, so the Swarm obviously are banking on that past experience to lead to some instant chemistry. It’s not really a desperation move, because Stevens can produce. And when your offense is averaging just 7.5 goals a game through 4 games, that’s exactly what you need.

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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