CALGARY, AB – It’s decision time for the Calgary Roughnecks. Will they push themselves into a playoff spot or fall further out of contention?
Calgary Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky is challenging his players to push against the New England Black Wolves.
“I think our guys have to understand the window is closing,” Malawsky said. “I still think we control our own destiny, but the window is definitely closing. The guys have to decide this weekend if they care enough to continue on or if they are happy with where they are going to be.
“I’m challenging the boys this weekend, they need to step up. This is the weekend to do it, there’s no more tomorrow.”
After a big win against the Edmonton Rush two weeks ago, the Roughnecks came home to Scotiabank Saddledome and were quickly dropped back into reality in a 13-7 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks.
They need to reclaim the mindset that led them to victory in Edmonton.
“As funny as it sounds, with our record, I think our guys started feeling good about themselves and they forgot the ideology it took to be successful up in Edmonton,” Malawsky said. “We had a good first half against Rochester and that second half, they came out hungrier and wanted it more and that was the game.”
While inconsistent defence has plagued the team all season, that is not the focus for the Roughnecks this week.
Instead, they are focused on getting the offence back on track after three games where they didn’t score more than 12 goals.
“Offensively, I think we need to be better,” Malawsky said. “The last few years our offence has been near the top in the NLL and especially our power play has been solid. Five-on-five, if I’m looking at it on paper, I’m going to be saying shut down the rights and make the lefts beat you. We have to get back to sharing the work, sharing the load and sharing the responsibility in the offensive end. We want to be a multifaceted offence.”
While not the primary focus, Calgary is aware they have to fix some problems on the back end.
Defensively, it is less about change and more about trying to polish their current structures.
“We’ve got to continue to focus on our defensive systems and the process that’s back there,” Malawsky said.
Added Roughnecks defenseman Scott Carnegie: “Our starts haven’t been great all year, so that’s something we need to work on. Just be more focused and sticking with the process and trusting in each other. We have good game plans, but different aspects seem to fall apart on us. I think just more focus and trusting each other will help us a lot.”
The Black Wolves are coming west after a 10-9, come-from-behind victory against the Minnesota Swarm. This win came after a two-week break where they had lost their previous five games.
“I always find wins hard to come by in this league,” said New England coach Blane Harrison. “So every time you can get one, it’s always a nice feeling. Under the circumstances, it’s nice to get the monkey off the back for a little bit.”
Despite the win, the Black Wolves know that they have a lot to fix if they want to remain in the playoff picture.
Preparation for this week’s game consists less of what Calgary will bring, but more of what they need to improve on.
“To be perfectly honest, there’s enough on our plate to keep us busy just trying to eliminate mental errors and cleaning up a bunch of stuff,” Harrison said. “That occupies a lot of our time. We certainly know all about them, they’ve got some fabulous scorers and offensive players and solid defence that likes to run. There’s enough to keep us busy on that side of the spectrum as well.”
New England will bring their very young roster to face a very veteran Roughnecks team.
The Black Wolves boast four rookies and three sophomores on their active roster, while Calgary has no rookies and only two sophomores.
“We came into the season knowing we were going to be on the young side,” Harrison said. “We were prepared for the roller coaster that comes along with having a young team. I didn’t think the ups and downs would be as dramatic as they have been, but that’s the way it is.
“We didn’t have the luxury of folding them into the lineup in a gentle glide-path, they had to jump in feet first. Sheldon Burns is starting to play well on the back end and Mark Cockerton is starting to feel more confident and more comfortable in his role, so that’s always good to see.”
The Roughnecks roster gained another veteran earlier this week as the team signed gritty forward Sean Pollock.
Pollock will join a talented forward group and should be able to fit in right away.
“He’s a great off-ball player,” Malawksy stated. “He’s a great fit with Evans and Dickson because he doesn’t need the ball. He plays in the dirty areas, I thought Rochester put a few on our wrists and our tailbones and our guys didn’t want to go to the dirty areas.
“Sean Pollock is a guy who will do that and score those tough goals and grab those tough loose balls. I’ve seen him crawl over a few teammates to go after a guy who went after (John) Grant Jr. or (Adam) Jones in Colorado and you can’t quantify that.”
With the addition of Pollock, the team will look to get back on the right track this Friday.
They will look to make this the start of a long run that can get them into the playoffs.
“We’re confident we can turn this thing around,” Malawsky said. “We’re going to do this together and we continue to believe in it. It’s been a great challenge as a coach and I think it’s only going to make our coaching staff better. We think we can write an epic story.”