EDMONTON - Before he could even say, 'I wish I had that one back,' Corey Small got it.
Only one player was more embarrassed than the Edmonton Rush forward after being stoned on a breakaway by Calgary Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin in last weekend's NLL West Division semifinal.
That honour had to belong to Poulin, who gathered up the ball after the heroic effort to keep it out of his net, only to put it in himself.
In an effort to catapult a pass to a waiting teammate at the other end of the floor, Poulin had the ball slide from his grasp and trickle effortlessly across his goal-line.
“There was nobody within 10 feet of me,” recalled Small, whose breakaway effort ended up counting as his fourth of five goals in an eight-point night.
“There wasn’t anybody probably within 10 feet of me,” Small said. “Because we were up by so many, I think it was four or five by that point, they started pressing out a lot on us to try and create turnovers.
“Somehow, whoever was covering me got lost and I had a huge lane to the net.”
Small put a couple of fakes on Poulin, who wasn’t buying them.
“He actually made a nice save on me,” Small said. “I thought I had him on the move, originally.
“I circled the net and by the time I started going into the bench, I looked back and saw the ball bouncing in the net.”
Small wasn’t the only one wondering exactly what happened.
“When I saw the replay on the big screen, it looked like he went to pass it and it just slipped right out the back of his stick,” Small said. “He looked like he picked it up and was ready to fire it all the way down the floor.”
Instead Poulin, who earned four wins in the regular season by holding the Rush to just 33 goals in their season series, ends up giving one away for free in the one meeting that was bigger than the other four combined.
The Roughnecks had just pulled within four points of Edmonton’s lead prior to Poulin’s gift, which proved to be the nail in their own coffin as they didn’t score again. But Edmonton did. Three more times, in fact, to exact a little payback for the Roughnecks’ regular-season dominance.
“Personally, I only get a breakaway every game or so and that’s only through transition off the bench,” Small said. “To have an open look like that when we’re five-on-five is pretty uncommon.
“So it was nice for it to eventually find its way to the back of the net.”
Nicer still, was the victory that now sends Edmonton to St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday for the West Division final — a second for Small, who reached it as a Rush rookie in 2010.
“I don’t think anybody who played in that game will ever forget how we lost that one,” Small said of an overtime goal by the Washington Stealth’s Paul Rabil just eight seconds into overtime two years ago.
It’s not the kind of loss a club can easily bounce back from. Nor did they.
“Last year was definitely eye-opening to see how the other side of things can be when you’re not a premier team in the league,” he said of a 5-11 playoff-missing effort in 2011.
Small was one shy of scoring 40 points as a rookie that year, before wracking up 63 in his sophomore season.
This year saw his production drop back to 48 points in the regular-season, averaging three a game — a figure he more than doubled by blasting into the playoffs last weekend.
But it wasn’t all bleak. Small tied a team record with seven assists in a 16-5 win over the Washington Stealth in Week 2.
And it’s not like he was the only one searching for the scoring touch, either.
“We’ve been an offence that’s struggled all year, getting 10 goals a game, which is pretty low for this league,” Small said. “It was nice that we were all able to step up and chip in when our lives were really on the line.”
Besides, he would gladly trade last year’s numbers for this year’s playoff opportunity.
“Obviously, the outcome of this year has been a lot better than last year,” Small said. “That’s what’s most important in the grand scheme of things.”