By Rush beat writer Scott Zerr & Roughnecks beat writer Kassidy Collins for NLL.com
The Edmonton Rush (15-1) host their rival Calgary Roughnecks (10-6) at Rexall Place for round four of the ‘Battle of Alberta’ on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
With a playoff spot and home-turf advantage throughout the run to the Champion’s Cup locked up already, one might think the Rush have little left to ignite their passion over the final two regular-season games of the 2014 National Lacrosse League schedule.
But that’s far from the truth. Despite their gaudy 15-1 record, which includes a record-setting unbeaten streak and a new NLL mark for longest winning streak in road games, the Rush do have plenty of incentive in the very late states of this season. On Saturday night, the Rush can achieve something they’ve never done before, and that is complete a season-series sweep of the arch-rival Calgary Roughnecks.
Edmonton has won all three matchups so far in 2014 and can wrap up bragging rights at Rexall Place with a fourth consecutive victory. The Rush dropped the Roughnecks 15-11 last Saturday in Calgary, and dominated the first two games of the season by counts of 15-8 and 15-7.
“Not long ago we were the little dogs getting beat up by the big dogs down the road,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “It had been pretty one-sided but we’ve turned our fortune around a bit.”
The Rush have never won more than two games in a season series against Calgary, that coming when the teams split their 2010 showdowns with two wins apiece. The Roughnecks swept the Rush in three season series, taking all three games in 2009 and then going 4-0 in both 2011 and 2012.
Calgary also won three of four meetings last season and currently hold an overall mark of 23-9 against the Rush in regular-season play.
That was then, and now the Rush are rolling. After seeing their 14-game undefeated streak end last Friday in a 10-8 loss at Colorado, the Rush didn’t sag one bit when they trekked back to Canada 24 hours later and chopped down Calgary before one of the largest crowds in Roughnecks’ history.
“Colorado earned that win but I thought we bounced back and played a pretty strong game in Calgary. It was good to get back on track right away,” added Keenan.
Like the Rush, the Roughnecks have a playoff spot nailed down and they’ll host either Colorado or Vancouver in the West Division Semifinal with the winner moving on to face Edmonton in the two-game West Final. But post-season security isn’t expected to take any edge off the Battle of Alberta.
“I don’t think that’s going to drop the intensity,” said Rush goalie Aaron Bold. “I think we got a bit of a learning experience losing to Colorado. They outworked us and we had to get back to basics. I think it’s a good going into the playoffs with a bit of a reality check.”
Even in the midst of their stellar 14-game unbeaten run, the Rush were always cognizant that they could improve. Just because a playoff berth is locked up doesn’t change that endeavor.
“We are going to continue to make adjustments and these last two games gives us that opportunity,” noted Keenan. “We want to continue to get better and we’re going to look for ways to get better.”
Meanwhile, the Roughnecks have another chance this coming weekend to gain some pride back and avoid a season sweep after last weekend’s home loss to the Rush.
“In a tight game like that in the NLL, if you play 45 minutes, you’re not going to be successful,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “When you make those mistakes against a team like that, it’s going to end up in your net, so it’s important for us to clean up the defensive side of things. We can’t go with the same game plan because obviously for one main reason, it didn’t work that well. We’ll make some adjustments and we’re looking forward to getting back in it with those guys.”
The Riggers have given up 15 goals in all three games against the Rush this season, being outscored 45-26 and are in danger of being swept in the season series if they do not come out with a win this Saturday.
“We got a spot secured in the playoffs but we gotta get better, we gotta focus on what we need to clean up and there was a lot of areas I thought on Saturday night that we didn’t do very well at,” said Malawsky. “Edmonton makes you play right to that buzzer, we didn’t, and it ended up in the back of our net. For us, we need to focus on getting better and battling harder against them; I think they’ve outworked us all three games.”
The ‘Necks will be taking on a team that hasn’t lost at home this season. Calgary transition player Geoff Snider knows the difficulties of playing the Rush in their home barn.
“It’s going to be a challenge; they’re a very talented lacrosse team,” he said. “It’s certainly motivating for us and if you’re going to get anywhere in playoffs, you’re going to be playing these guys. We’re not looking past the first round by any means but they’re a team that has been a force all season long, which is an understatement.”
Compared to the first two matchups this season, the ‘Necks came very close to beating their cross-province rivals last weekend and Malawsky liked his team’s improvements.
“We got better from the first two games we played them,” he said. “After watching film, it wasn’t as bad as I thought in certain areas. We’ll concentrate on the good things we did and clean up the mistakes that cost us the game and hopefully we’ll get a better effort on Saturday.”
In past years, Calgary has had the upper hand on Edmonton, but the tides have turned and the Rush organization is not only competing, but also making it look easy.
“There has always been that provincial rival, it’s always been a battle over the years,” said Malawsky. “Now Edmonton has the shoe on the other foot and we’re taking the beats from them. We’re representing southern Alberta and we want to go up there and show well. So it’s definitely a good rivalry and it’s great for the NLL, and for the province of Alberta.”
Snider also believes that a rivalry like this one in the NLL is great for lacrosse in Alberta.
“The sport in Alberta is growing and anytime it’s Calgary and Edmonton, there is a general intensity,” he said. “Sometimes it gets scrappy, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes they’re heated games, sometimes they aren’t, and I think it’s a direct biproduct of having a quality provincial rivalry. We’re prepared, we’re motivated and it’s on us, we’re looking to come out and execute a game plan and we’re going to be motivated to do so.”