The next chapter in a bitter rivalry will be written during the start of the playoffs tonight as the Calgary Roughnecks (12-6) host the Colorado Mammoth (8-10) at Scotiabank Saddledome for the NLL West Division Semifinal at 7 p.m. MST.
It is no secret that these two teams are cats and dogs to each other, but Mammoth president and general manager Steve Govett best expressed this rivalry a few short weeks ago:
“The bottom line is: we hate Calgary and they hate us.”
That was in Week 11, the two teams previous matchup, and 24 hours after the dismissal of Colorado’s coaching staff. Interim coach Chris Gill expressed how great it was regarding the player adaptation to the new regime, now facing another major test since coming in midseason.
“It’s exciting to have the fellas to have a bit of a change halfway through the season and buy into the systems we brought in,” Gill commented. “We’re firing on all cylinders and ready to take it into Calgary and see what happens.”
Defensive player Dan Coates could not agree more as well, who leads the Mammoth in forced turnovers (20) and fourth in loose balls (71).
“I think every team goes through its ups and downs through the course of the season,” Coates said. “This weekend is a great opportunity for us…I know our boys are excited.”
Gill further added that admit that Calgary’s record is a true reflection of the team: strong at every position, and persevering through the rough patches of their own regular season.
In all, it is foreshadowing of a game that could easily come down to a lone goal in deciding the victor, but history has not been kind to Colorado in the playoffs.
Since their 2006 Champion’s Cup season, Colorado has won two playoff games, and their most recent playoff loss was in the Saddledome last year where the Riggers topped the Mammoth, 15-10.
Coates went on to mention the defense will have their hands full against the Calgary shooters.
“They have a lot of depth on their offense,” Coates said. “And what we can do is try to limit their scoring chances and try and contain them.”
In addition, Colorado is riding a three game-winning streak to wrap up the regular season after their 13-12 win last weekend versus the Wings. John Grant Jr. and Drew Westervelt were absent from that game, but will be threats for the Roughnecks defense on Saturday. In their previous meeting in Week 11, Grant and Westervelt highlighted Colorado’s offense with six (1+5) and four (2+2) points respectively.
In the faceoff circle will be the Snider brothers again, where Calgary’s Geoff Snider got the better of brother Bob, winning 65 percent of the draws. Bob meanwhile hopes to get the edge this time around in an area that could prove pivotal in deciding Saturday’s victor.
The Roughnecks’ regular season came to an end last weekend after the Necks’ defeated the Vancouver Stealth 14-8 to finish the year with a very respectable 12-6 record. The Riggers finished second in the West Division in an overall successful regular season campaign.
“We went on a couple four game winning streaks, then bounced from a loss to a win, to a loss to a win, but finished the season real strong,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “I think we got better as the year went on which every coach wants to see going into playoffs.”
The Roughnecks were able to hand the Edmonton Rush just their second loss of the season in the game before which has started the momentum train for the ‘Necks heading into playoffs.
“We’re firing on all cylinders and our guys are pumped to get going,” said Malawsky. “We had a tough road trip near the end of the year out East which brought our group together tighter then we already were. We’re really excited to get home in front of our own fans and our guys still have that bitter taste from the West Final last year, so we’re raring to go.”
Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider agrees with his head coach and said the team has really come together and are ready to get the playoff underway.
“The thing about our team over the course of the year is how we’ve grown a lot as a group,” Snider said. “I think collectively we’ve been coming together and working well together over the last month or so and we’re excited to get out there Saturday night and looking forward to the opportunity.”
This matchup is setting up to be a battle as the Riggers fell to the Mammoth two out of the three games played this season, but the goals for and against for each team were virtually the exact same at 35 apiece.
“They beat us two out of three this year and they’re playing good lacrosse,” said Malawsky. “Their goaltender is playing well, they’ve got world-class talent up front and they’re a very athletic defense. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. But at the end of the day, it’s what we do and how we dictate things on the floor. And we’re very confident in the group that we have.”
The NLL has changed the format of this year’s playoffs, meaning if the Roughnecks win on Saturday, they will move to the Division Finals and get another home playoff game. The Division Finals and the Champion’s Cup Finals have been expanded to a two-game series. Win both games and you win the series, but if teams split the series, a 10-minute mini-game will decide the winner, certainly making it more exciting for the fans.
As if this game wasn’t big enough, it has a little side story as Geoff Snider will be facing off against his brother Bob.
“It’s a unique thing in sports, you don’t get to compete against your brother very often,” said Snider. “Bobby’s come a long way, he’s talented, so I doubt he has any plans of taking it easy on me and I certainly don’t have any plans of taking it easy on him. We’ll get out there and we’re looking forward to a great battle.”
With both teams ready to make their playoff debut, Malawsky has nothing but confidence in is team.
“We have the utmost respect for that organization and the group of guys coming into Calgary,” Malawsky said. “But it’s going to be about the Roughnecks this weekend.”