CALGARY, AB — The Rochester Knighthawks will vie for an NLL record third straight league title when they face the Calgary Roughnecks in the 2014 NLL Champion’s Cup Finals, a two-game series that gets underway Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
This will be the first time the two teams have faced each other in the post-season.
“It’s about the Calgary Roughnecks right now, and it’s no disrespect to anybody who comes out of the East,” Riggers head coach Curt Malawsky said. “We’re a confident group of guys that believe in each other, we’ve got a lot of trust going on amongst each other and that’s a dangerous animal.
“Right now we’re just going to go back and heal up and regroup and remember who we are. We’re excited to be coming home.”
The Roughnecks finished the regular season with a 12-6 record while the Knighthawks captured the East Division crown, finishing the campaign at 14-4.
Calgary’s road to the finals has been a dramatic one. The Roughnecks engaged in a see-saw battle with the Colorado Mammoth at the Saddledome on May 3 for the West Division semifinal, a single elimination game, taking the Mammoth to overtime before Shawn Evans ended the game, propelling the Riggers to victory.
The West Division Finals had Calgary facing their provincial rivals and the NLL’s regular season top seed, the Edmonton Rush, in a two-game set. On May 10, Curtis Dickson capitalized on a penalty shot with 0:21 seconds left in the final quarter to tie the game 11-11, pushing Game 1 to an extra session. Jeff Shattler was the overtime hero and the Roughnecks took a 1-0 series lead into Edmonton.
In Game 2 on May 16, the Rush jumped out to an early 11-2 lead only to have the Roughnecks rally late, coming within a goal. Edmonton would seal it with an empty net goal and a 15-13 win, forcing a 10-minute mini game tie-breaker. Mike Poulin stopped 10 shots and Shawn Evans netted a pair of goals in the extra match as Calgary eliminated Edmonton and punched their ticket to the Finals.
Rochester earned a bye into the East Division Finals, where they faced the Buffalo Bandits. Mark Steenhuis and John Tavares led the attack for the Bandits — with four goals apiece — as they handed the Knighthawks a 12-8 upset to take Game 1 in the series on May 10.
In Game 2 on May 17, Rochester prevailed by a score of 13-8, needing a mini game to decide a winner. The extra game would wind up tied 1-1 pushing the East Division Final to overtime when Cory Vitarelli fired a rocket past Anthony Cosmo to send the Knighthawks to the championship.
The Roughnecks won their first of two NLL Champion’s Cup titles in 2004 when they beat Buffalo 14-11 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saddledome. The Riggers captured another league title in 2009 when they beat the New York Titans 12-10 in Calgary. Buffalo took home the crown last in 2008 with a 14-13 victory over the Portland LumberJax.
The Knighthawks have earned back-to-back league titles in the past two seasons. They prevailed over Edmonton 9-6 in 2012 and edged the Washington Stealth in 2013, 11-10.
Calgary and Rochester squared off once this season when the Roughnecks walked away with a come-from-behind 11-10 triumph on April 5. The Riggers trailed 9-6 to start the fourth quarter in that game and then rallied, outscoring their opponent 5-1 in the frame to gain the win.
The championship also features the league’s top two scorers in Shawn Evans of the Roughnecks and Cody Jamieson of the Knighthawks. Jamieson finished the season with 36 goals and 72 assists for 108 points, tops in the NLL. Evans closed out the year with 26 goals and a league best 79 assists for 105 points.
“Our fan base in Calgary is awesome,” Evans said, “They’re unbelievable and we need them to continue their support because next week is what we’ve been fighting for all year and this is what we’ve been doing.
“We’re ready to go, we’re ready for next week. Bring on the championship.”
I don’t care who we play. We’re just focussed on the next chapter and who we play is the next thing in front of us.
Game 1 of the series is set for Saturday, May 24 at 7:00 PM at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Game 2 will be played on May 31 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY, with faceoff at 6:00 PM MST. If the teams split the two-game series, a 10-minute mini game will be played immediately following Game 2 to determine the 2014 NLL champion.