CALGARY, AB — The Calgary Roughnecks knew their road to the NLL Champion’s Cup would go through Edmonton.
The inevitable came to fruition Saturday when the Riggers edged the Colorado Mammoth 16-15 in overtime in one of the most exciting lacrosse games ever played at the Scotiabank Saddledome, setting up yet another classic Battle of Alberta with the Edmonton Rush. This time, a two-game set to determine the West Division victor.
The winner goes on. The loser goes home.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle, they’re a good team,” said Shawn Evans, Saturday’s overtime hero. “I think if they were watching [Saturday] I don’t think they wanted to play us. They’re going to be in for one and I think we’re going to be ready and we’re going to be focused and we’re going to take it to them.”
Much like every other team in the NLL, the Roughnecks struggled against the 16-2 Rush this season but did manage to squeeze out one victory, a 14-13 overtime showdown on April 19th, the last time the two teams met.
With Edmonton coming into Saturday’s Game 1 of the West Division Finals as the clear-cut favourites, Calgary coach Curt Malawsky isn’t discounting his team’s confidence.
“I think the rest of the NLL would probably say that we [are underdogs],” Malawsky said following the Roughnecks’ West Division semifinal win over Colorado, “They are a very, very good team and I’m not going to sit here and scream the underdog or snowball anybody.
“We’re going to heal up a little bit and we’re going to go to war. We’re excited to be able to come back to Calgary. We’ve got a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of emotion and we’ve got a lot of trust amongst each other in that room, it’s a dangerous animal. We’re excited to get going.”
The Roughnecks are coming into Saturday’s tilt winners of seven of their last eight contests. Edmonton, who rested while the West Division semifinal was settled, dropped two of their last four regular season games after starting the season with a record-setting 14-0 record.
Edmonton took it to Calgary in three of their four meetings this season, outscoring the Riggers 45-26.
“They are a hell of a team and we know the challenge we are going to be up against — they were 16-2 [during the regular season] — but I feel like we owe them,” Roughnecks netminder Mike Poulin pointed out. They got the better of us this year, we just need to remind ourselves this is a heck of a rivalry coming up so it shouldn’t take too much to get up for it.”
The two-game series will conclude in Edmonton on Friday, May 16. If the teams split, they will embark in a 10-minute ‘mini’ game to decide the winner following the second game at Rexall Place.
“We feel we can win and we’re going to play with confidence,” captain Andrew McBride said. “We like our chances, we’re going to have to step up and really pick up the slack for guys that are maybe out of the lineup but we’re ready to go and it’s really good to get this opportunity.
“It’s great to have to have the first game at home. We really want to be able to get out there and grab that one for our home fans and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
McBride, who has been praising the Calgary fans all season, said the crowd played a big part in lifting the Roughnecks to victory over the Mammoth and wants to use that as motivation on Saturday in hosting the Rush.
“To be able to play in that [environment], to be able to reward our fans,” McBride declared proudly. “Talk about a crowd at the end really being able to pick us up … in overtime and down the stretch.
“It’s a really big honour to put the Calgary jersey on and play for the name on the front of our chest.”