Calgary's Harrison Matsuoka 'more confident' in contributing at both ends for Roughnecks

Transition talent gritty when it counts most down the stretch for NLL club

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The goal — the entire play, really — proves he belongs.

Sure, Harrison Matsuoka has had his moments for the Calgary Roughnecks. That’s expected from a first-round draftee.

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But his effort in last Friday’s pivotal match-up — a difference-maker, to be certain — is proof positive the kid from Calgary can be a force in the National Lacrosse League.

“Yeah … just trying to help out the team anywhere I can,” said Matsuoka, who was all smiles about his contribution in the 12-10 triumph over the Saskatchewan Rush at Scotiabank Saddledome.

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“I think I’m a little bit more confident than I was in the past — kind of playing more like I was in junior and in college, so it’s really nice,” continued the young transition talent. “I’m kind of piecing it together and being able to help out in games that are close … like this one.

“So it feels good.”

Even better since the transition talent’s performance came in victory, when the Riggers needed it most.

Facing the Rush in a weekend double-dip, they were desperate for at least one ‘W’ to keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

And so that home drop of the Rush, who turned the tables in the 12-9 rematch one night later in Saskatoon, helped to keep them within striking distance of the top-eight teams in the standings — all of which earn post-season berths — with Saturday’s all-important contest on tap for the Roughnecks (7-9) against the host Buffalo Bandits (9-7) in Upstate New York (5:30 p.m., TSN+).

They’ll need all hands on deck — including those belonging to Matsuoka — for that potential must-win.

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“I don’t even know, honestly,” said Matsuoka, when asked to recall how his quick stick found the twine behind Rush goaltender Frank Scigliano last weekend. “I saw it … like … after, but I wasn’t really sure where it went.”

To refresh everyone’s memory, it went high over the far shoulder of Scigliano.

And Matsuoka, who’d just snagged a long-bomb pass from goaltender Christian Del Bianco, couldn’t see it because he was crushed on the play by Adam Jay.

It was a bang-bang-bang series of events — athletic and painful as heck — to produce the gritty goal.

“Great pass by Delbs,” Matsuoka said. “He kind of put it in the only spot he could, and it worked out alright for us. Delbs is like QB1.

“The guys in the box when I got my penalty later were saying I used to be an O guy, but I think that was back in bantam. It’s been a while since something like that.”

True, the 6-foot, 180-pounder doesn’t get to score often these days.

He only had four goals in three seasons as a leader with the NCAA’s Stony Brook Seawolves.

And in his five years with the Okotoks Junior A Raiders is where the Robert Thirsk High School graduate had his transition game take off.

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“I used to run the floor a lot in junior, so trying to get back to that game this year,” Matsuoka said. “And I mean … it’s easy when you got guys like Delbs and and Jeff (Cornwall) and Zach (Currier) and (Shane) Simmer (Simpson) who are all pushing the floor. It makes it easy to run the floor and gives you confidence.”

That’s showing in what’s become a break-out campaign for Matsuoka, now 25.

He’s now played in at least 15 games in each of his first three NLL seasons, improving year-by-year defensively as he gets comfortable.

But this year, he’s clearly taken a step forward at both ends, with three goals — he had two earlier on the calendar in a pivotal 11-10 road win over the solid Toronto Rock — to match the number he scored combined in 2021-22 and ’22-23.

Roughnecks head coach Josh Sanderson, can attest to that, praising Matsuoka for being “really, really good” in last weekend’s victory.

And the bench boss went on to say that effort is just an extension of the solid season Matsuoka has put in for the Riggers.

“I think his work ethic and his dedication in the off-season has certainly helped him improve,” Sanderson said. “He’s very coachable, has very good character and is a very good teammate. It looks like he’s more confident.

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“So I don’t think his play has much to do with coaching. It’s more to do with him doing everything right.”

The guy who made him a Roughnecks player with the 14th pick overall in the 2020 NLL Draft echoes that sentiment.

“Yeah … Harrison deserves full marks for his development,” agreed Roughnecks GM Mike Board. “It’s a big jump from junior lacrosse to the pros, and he has put in the time and effort to be successful at making the transition. He spends the time training. He spends the time studying film. That dedication to improving his game is paying off. He’s earned everything.”

Indeed, the home-grown talent is proving he belongs.

“Really, when you go into the draft you are looking for players who you feel can play in the league,” added Board. “Alberta lacrosse has, over the last five or six years, produced more and more players who are regulars on rosters. More Alberta and, indeed, prairie players are being drafted, and they are being drafted in the higher rounds. Kudos to Alberta and Saskatchewan lacrosse coaches and organizers for all the work done to develop more players.”

QUICK STICKS

Face-off ace and transition Justin Inacio (lower body) remains out of the Roughnecks lineup … Out for the Riggers, as well, are defenceman Robert Hudson (upper body) and out forward Brett McIntyre (lower body) … The Roughnecks have activated defenceman Kieran McKay to the active roster from the practice player list.

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