CALGARY, AB — This is what they’ve been playing for all season.
After slumping out of the gate to an 0-6 start, the Calgary Roughnecks have been playing hard to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs going 6-5 down the stretch. That opportunity has presented itself this weekend as they can take hold of the final playoff spot in the West Division with a win over the Vancouver Stealth in their regular season finale at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday.
“We’ve been working really hard,” said Roughnecks assistant captain Geoff Snider. “We played thirteen straight weeks, with a couple double-headers in there. We’ve been battling and working hard on what we need to do to be successful.”
The Roughnecks did not play this past weekend as they had a bye week.
The week off was surely a nice break for the players to get healthy and prepared before battling for their playoff lives.
“The rest was welcomed but we mixed in a lot more training than we were doing in the past with the schedule,” Snider said. “It was nice to get the work in, nice to keep the stick in our hands, and getting ready to roll for the weekend here.”
“Our guys trained real hard in the bye week,” added coach Curt Malawsky. “We’re going to be very well prepared team and the guys are chomping at the bit to go.”
Having the home field advantage in this proverbial playoff game is a big factor for the Stealth. They will try to feed off of the fans and push themselves to the post-season.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Vancouver coach Dan Perrault. “It’s going to have a ‘game seven’ atmosphere in the building. It’ll be exciting and there is a lot at stake here to move forward. The guys are fired up and they understand the importance of this game. They are going to be prepared and fired up and it’s going to be a great atmosphere in the building.”
Vancouver is coming off of a 17-9 loss to an emotionally charged Buffalo team, who were playing in honour of former Bandit Shawn Williams’ son, Tucker Williams and his fight with Burkitt Lymphoma.
The team played well, but were no match for Mark Steenhuis and the Bandits as they scored eight goals in the fourth quarter to send the Stealth home without a win.
“It was a good game for three quarters,” Perrault said. “Late in the third we were within a goal. I thought we were doing some good things. Unfortunately, it was a fired up Buffalo team and it was an emotional night in that building. They played well and we ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Things are positive and the guys are fired up for this weekend.”
The loss was the Stealth’s second in a row and eighth in their previous 10 games.
Vancouver came out of the gate 4-4 with two of those wins against Calgary. That was followed by a six-game losing streak and a 1-8 record down the stretch. Regardless, the Stealth did enough to keep pace with the Roughnecks and force a final playoff-deciding contest.
“The big thing is that you get the wins when you need them and this weekend is a big one,” Perrault said. “I wouldn’t look into that too much.”
Vancouver will need to right the ship come Saturday if they plan to beat the Roughnecks. It’s a game that’s been circled on their calendar and they will need to bring their best to prevail over a much improved Calgary team.
However, as with any one-game elimination style match ups, anything can happen and anyone can win. It’s all about what you do now and not what was done in past weeks.
“It’s obviously our biggest game of the year,” said Stealth transition player Mitch McMichael. “We talk about it in the locker room and how the next game is going to be the biggest one and it couldn’t be more true for this weekend. I think we are prepared. We’ve been working hard and I think we’ve made some huge strides in the last couple weeks in terms of how we’ve been gelling as a team.
With a playoff spot on the line, expect both teams to come out swinging and not stop until the final buzzer sounds.
The Roughnecks have been in bigger games than this and they will try to rely on that experience to help get them through what should be a tough battle.
“Our locker room is filled with guys who have played in massive games and who have come out on the winning end and the losing end,” Snider said. “Guys have reflected on our successes and failures as a team and as individual over the course of the season. We have great group of warriors, we’ve got guys that understand how talented and competitive that Vancouver team is. We’re prepared for the biggest game of the season.”