CALGARY, AB — Two familiar circumstances surround the Calgary Roughnecks’ West Division semifinal playoff engagement against the Colorado Mammoth at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday — the location and the opponent.
Long-time Roughnecks defender Andrew McBride has participated in all six post-season matches against the Mammoth since the Roughnecks rolled into town in the summer of 2001, with Calgary holding a dominating 5-1 edge and a perfect 3-0 on home turf.
According to McBride, the passionate Calgary fan base — who have become astute lacrosse fans — could be the difference in the one-game sudden death Saturday showdown.
“We’re excited, first and foremost to be able to play in front of our fans — it’s such a big advantage for us,” the Roughnecks captain explained. “They’re such great fans, they always pump us up at the right times. Calgary is known as one of the toughest places to play and we’re playing with confidence right now. I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
In their 13-year existence, the Roughnecks have qualified for postseason play in all but their inaugural season, making it to the dance 12 consecutive years.
In that span, they have played 18 playoff games, earning a modest 9-9 record. Their home playoff record is 6-6, but they have also earned two NLL Championships at the ‘Dome — in 2004, in front of a sellout crowd of 19,289 and in 2009 with over 12,000 onlookers.
“We get 10, 11, 12-thousand every game and they’re loud and they’re passionate and they understand what’s going on in our game and that’s what’s great and exciting about the crowd here,” McBride said. “They’re smart lacrosse fans. They understand. On a big play or if someone runs to the bench, they cheer on little stuff like that. It’s not just about the goals or the big hits. I know we’re going to have loyal fans. It’s been a great buzz around the city.
“People are talking about it and it’s going to be a great night.”
The crowds at Riggers games have earned a reputation of being somewhat rambunctious, a quality McBride and his teammates can appreciate, particularly for a big game like this.
“I think, especially for us, because we all have other jobs and we’re all really big sport’s fans, we like coming to atmospheres [like that],” he said. “We like coming to the Dome and cheering. Being a sport’s fan is being engrossed in the game … celebrating your team’s success. I think that the environment — where people are cheering — it gets everyone to rise up and follow it. When that momentum gets building and people are excited and people are understanding how much it does help the team.
“It’s a great sport’s environment. It’s great to be involved in the game when it builds up like that, and how our crowds do with the music and the DJs — it can really rise to a level where it is really, really going to help us.”
The Roughnecks haven’t had to make a post-season appearance outside of Calgary since 2008, and despite the regular season success to earn the home dates, playoffs the past few years haven’t been kind. The Riggers have managed just two victories in the last six home playoff dates.
It’s something McBride says the team has learned from and is eager to seek redemption.
“The last couple of years the playoff exit hasn’t been what we’ve wanted so we’ve taken some lessons about staying positive in games and understanding that we’re going to be in a tight games,” McBride. “I think that is really going to help us this year because we’ve been down three or four goals in the fourth quarter and we haven’t panicked and we’ve been able to come back.
“By playing a bunch of those games, it’s going to bode well for the playoffs and we’re really going to have to do a good job as a leadership group to rely on those experiences and pass that on to the young guys.”
Looking back, McBride’s sense is the 2014 version of the Roughnecks might be one of the most balanced teams he’s been a part of.
“I think this is one of the best teams that I’ve been on because every area of our team is strong,” he explained. “We can play a high-scoring game, we can play a transition game and if we need to go back down there and whack-and-pack we can do that.
“It’s going to be a good test but a test that I think we’re prepared for. It’s going to be an exciting game to play.”