After losing to the Regina Rifles on their home floor on Friday, the Estevan Tarpon Energy Big Dogs rebounded late to force a draw against the Saskatoon Steelers on Sunday. The Big Dogs were smoked 23-6 by the Rifles on Friday at the Icon Centre. But they bounced back on Sunday, rallying in the third period to tie the Steelers 15-15 in Saskatoon.
On Sunday, the Big Dogs (2-5-2) had only 12 players available, including their goalie, but saved enough stamina to score five straight goals in the third and get back in the game.
Rhett Handley led the team with 10 points, including seven goals, and Dylan Smith added three goals and five assists.
Head coach Evan Handley added that Mark Moriarty and Katie King were excellent defensively and that Michael Bittman "hammered three or four kids," a couple of those hits leading directly to Estevan goals.
"Dustin Cowan made some huge saves for us, which was nice to see," he added.
"Stuff like that doesn't show up on the scoresheet, but we wouldn't have been where we were without them."
The Big Dogs roared out to a 4-1 lead six minutes into the first period, but ran into penalty trouble, which allowed the Steelers (3-6) to reclaim the lead.
Handley scored twice in the period, with Smith, Kelsy Omland and Ryan Frehlick adding singles.
Ryan Potie (3), Brad Schnitzler (2) and Jordan Laverty scored in the opening frame for Saskatoon, which led 6-5 going to the break.
The Steelers extended their lead in the second period, outscoring the Big Dogs 5-4. All of the scoring came in the second half of the frame.
Handley (2), Smith and Bittman each scored for Estevan in the period. Jaydon Nystuen (2), Laverty, Marshall Cameron and Konner Siemens replied for the Steelers.
"The kids battled super hard," said Handley.
"It seemed like every time they got a goal, we would either get a goal or get a good chance to score."
Already clutching an 11-9 lead after two periods, the Steelers got two quick goals from Potie and Steve Caswell early in the third to dig the Big Dogs into a big hole.
Handley said he gave the team a quick pep talk and the momentum appeared to change, as Estevan responded by scoring five consecutive goals in a span of nine minutes.
Smith scored only 10 seconds after the Caswell marker, and goals by Omland, Currie and Handley (2) put the Big Dogs back on top with 7:27 to play. The go-ahead goal came just six seconds after Currie's marker to tie the game.
Saskatoon wasn't finished, as Potie scored his fifth goal with five minutes remaining to knot the score at 14-14.
Handley netted his seventh of the game 71 seconds later to put his team on top again, but Saskatoon's Brayden Farquhar found the back of the net with 1:45 left in regulation to tie it once and for all.
"With 27 or 28 seconds left, we had the ball going down (the floor) and called time out to set up for one last shot," said Handley. "We got the shot, but it wasn't the best shot we wanted."
On Friday, the Big Dogs played a strong first period but the Rifles (6-1-1) quickly took charge after that. Estevan trailed 6-4 after one.
Handley and Smith had two goals apiece, and Frehlick and Currie added one each.
"The kids did a lot of things really, really well (in the first period). They played well defensively and had some good chances offensively," said Handley.
In the second, the Rifles got a couple of quick goals on long-range shots, the kind Handley called "emotionally draining" goals.
"They didn't seem to be able to get back into it," he said.
The Big Dogs have only one game left in their 10-game regular season schedule. That game will be played Saturday against the Saskatoon Smash at Spectra Place, marking the Big Dogs' first game in the new arena. Game time has been moved from 3 p.m. to 7.
Handley said it's an important game to win, as it could impact seeding for the Prairie Gold Lacrosse League playoffs July 14-15 in Saskatoon.
"That's a game, if we get everybody out, that we can win. I can see us anywhere from fourth to eighth place going into provincials," he said.
"(To win their last game) just gives you that boost of confidence going into provincials and lets you know you can compete.
"The main things we need to work on are to play a bit stronger and meaner defensively; when we get chances on the power play, bury them; and doing the little things."