TORONTO - The Calgary Roughnecks intend to make amends for falling agonizingly short last year.
They had the best regular-season record in the National Lacrosse League at 11-5, and mowed down Colorado before losing the West Division final by two goals to Washington. They were so close to going all the way.
So when they started the new season against the Toronto Rock on Sunday, they played with a hunger that would not allow them to fail. They won the NLL season opener 12-9 despite giving up the game’s first five goals.
"We feel we have unfinished business," said goaltender Mike Poulin. "Toronto won the championship last year when we felt we had the opportunity to get there but we didn't do our job. We've wiped the slate clean. This year we're coming after the win every week."
Opening with road games in Toronto and Everett, Wash., where they play this Saturday, is an immense challenge, but the 'Necks are up for it.
"We didn't get the easiest schedule in the world but that's great for us," Poulin said. "We welcome it. We want to play the best. We're going to see them eventually so let's see them right away."
Dane Dobbie had three goals including an empty-netter, Scott Ranger and Shawn Evans fired in two each and Cory Conway, Mike Carnegie, Darryl Veltman, Jeff Shattler and Curtis Dickson added one apiece.
Garrett Billings, Josh Sanderson, Sandy Chapman, Stephen Hoar, Kasey Beirnes, Blaine Manning, Colin Doyle, Phil Sanderson and Dan Carey replied for Toronto.
Matt Roik took the loss in his Rock debut. Calgary outshot Toronto 53-38 in front of 10,341, who must have figured the Rock were going to roll to victory after going up 5-0 by the end of the first quarter.
"We were running around and not playing our game," Poulin said of his team's early difficulties. "We were letting them dictate the flow. Once we settled down and got our heads into the game things turned around for us."
What followed was one of the biggest collapses in Rock history.
"We let the game get away," Doyle said. "I don't know why but we did.
"We were in complete control and playing immaculate lacrosse. I can't explain it. A championship team is not going to let games get away like that. They were a hungry team, as every team coming in here this year is going to be. We’ve got to learn from it."
It was 6-3 at halftime and 8-8 after three quarters and Ranger fired two balls past Roik early in the fourth to put Calgary ahead for good.
"We showed a lot of confidence in each other and that's going to count for a lot as the season goes along," Ranger said. "I had a tough start to the game so I was happy to be able to help the boys out in the fourth. I got a couple of good picks from Shawnie Evans and I was fortunate enough to put the ball in the net."
Poulin said he wasn't surprised at all about what happened in the second half.
"I knew we had a good enough squad to come back," he said. "Lacrosse is a game of runs. They went on their run and it was time for us to go on ours.’"
Evans, who was acquired from Rochester for the No. 5 entry draft pick last September, played his first NLL game for Calgary.
"It was incredible putting on the red and the black," said the feisty forward. "We've got a great group of guys. We started off a little slow but we hung together and came out flying in the second half to come out with a big win.
"We've all got the same goal: to win the Champion's Cup and we're going to do whatever it takes."
Said 2011 league MVP Shattler: "We didn't want to come all this way for nothing. We battled back like a championship team should."
Head coach Dave Pym was understandably proud of his players.
"We showed a lot of poise and patience," he said. "When we got in our groove, we just maintained a nice even keel and that paid dividends for us. There was no need to panic when he fell behind. We stuck with the game plan and came out in the second half and played a much better game."
Roik wasn't to blame for Toronto's loss.
"We played well but we laid off the gas in the second half," he said. "Collectively, we’ve all got to be better _ from the goalie out."
Toronto's defence allowed too many quality shots.
"We've got to focus on playing a full 60 minutes as a defence or they’ll pick you apart," said Rock defenceman Pat Merrill. "Roik made some unbelievable saves in the first quarter to shut them out. I don't think we played horrible as a defence but our strength is to be aggressive and we were too tentative, especially in the second half."
Coach Troy Cordingley wasn't throwing chairs, but he was clearly disappointed.
"We were real good for about 22 minutes," he said. "We were moving the ball well and we had some great chances. After that, I don't know if it was about trying to be the hero or what, trying to get the big goal by ourselves, but it wasn't good. We've got to go back to the drawing board. We know teams are going to come at us like this. We’ve got lots to learn from that one."
Notes: Rock owner Jamie Dawick and retired goalie Bob Watson, the 2011 title game MVP, raised the sixth championship banner in franchise history to the Air Canada Centre rafters . . . Rock scratches were D Bruce Codd, D Bill Greer and F Jamie Rooney, while the 'Necks deleted F Kaleb Toth, F Geoff McNulty and G Frankie Scigliano . . . Next games for both teams are Saturday when Toronto is at Buffalo and Calgary is at Washington.