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Best in the West Roughnecks ready for Mammoth playoff challenge

04/21/2013, 2:15pm EDT
By NLL.com's Mammoth beat writer Nick Salen and Roughnecks beat writer Jessica Elverum

Calgary and Colorado renew postseason rivalry in West Division Semifinal

As the West Division's top seed, the Calgary Roughnecks host the fourth-seeded Colorado Mammoth for their first-round Division Semifinal playoff game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9pm ET. (Photo: Brad Watson)

After clinching the West Division regular season title in last weekend’s finale, the Calgary Roughnecks host the fourth-seeded Colorado Mammoth at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET for their first-round Division Semifinal playoff matchup. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Last weekend, the Roughnecks came back from an early deficit against their provincial rival Edmonton Rush to ensure this weekend’s playoff game would be at home in Calgary.

“We didn’t panic, we had a lot of composure and we clawed our way back,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “It’s a testament to the character we have in our room, and the mistakes we did make once or twice early in the game, we didn’t make them later and as the game went on, we got better and better.”

Winning the thrilling game in overtime, on a goal courtesy of NLL scoring champ Shawn Evans, not only gave the Roughnecks home field advantage for this Saturday, it also gave them a boost heading into the playoffs.

“It gave us a lot of confidence, it let us know that we can come back at any score. We were down 6-1 and we stayed composed,” said Roughnecks defenseman Greg Harnett. “We’ve got great fans and we are happy to give them a home playoff game this year. We will see how it goes this weekend. “

Coach Malawsky has preached composure and discipline all season to a team that started at the top of the NLL in penalty minutes and finished at the bottom. He attributed this shift to the guys focusing on their game and not worrying about the referees.

“First and foremost, we can’t focus on what we can’t control and for the most part you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where the referee has a discretionary call to make,” he said. “We just went and concentrated on our game and focused on what we needed to do to be successful as a group and not worrying about what they did. But the other side of it, we had some really good referees, I thought they did a great job. They just let the guys play.

Going into this Saturday’s playoff game, he expects no different.

“We are going to continue to be disciplined,” Malawsky said. “If you’re not disciplined in the playoffs, you will end up on the short end of the stick. I think our guys firmly understand that and we are looking to compete hard this weekend.”

Although Calgary finished atop the division, a reputation of going out early in the playoffs precedes them, and Malawsky knows finishing first doesn’t mean anything once playoffs begin.

“If you overlook anybody in this league you are going to be on the outside looking in,” he said. “The team that makes the least amount of mistakes and can play that so called ‘perfect game’ is the team that’s going to be successful. By no means are we overlooking anyone, we are preparing more so than we ever have this season.”

“We just have to work hard,” Harnett added. “What got us here is what’s going to get us further. It’s really just going to come down to who wants it more, who does the little things and who’s prepared to do what it takes to win, really.”

Colorado controlled their own playoff destiny going into the final regular season week against Minnesota, finishing with in a 16-14 victory, clinching the No. 4 seed in the West and avenging a brutal loss in their home finale to the Swarm a week before.

"We’re very happy the way we responded to what we thought was not a very good performance at home versus Minnesota,” said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. “I thought we really responded well and to add onto that – the magnitude of the game, we're really pleased and happy to be in the playoffs and ready to go."

This will be the fourth meeting in 2013 between the two clubs, already adding to an impressive rivalry that has grown over the past few seasons. The Riggers won the regular season series versus the Mammoth by winning two of three, as well as boasting the top seed in the West. But with round four approaching, the most important meeting yet, Hamley noted that all his squad can do is to come focused and ready to play with a playoff mentality.

"I think it’s been said numerous times all year...every game is a tough one and you have to be prepared and you have to be ready, and Calgary is no different,” Hamley said.  “Obviously they won the division, we have to go there, they are very good at home and we'll have to be ready."

The Mammoth postseason has had little to celebrate in their previous appearances.  Since their championship season in 2006, Colorado has missed the playoffs only once, but have no postseason wins since hoisting the Champion’s Cup. 

Calgary has been the ultimate headache for Colorado in the process, knocking them out of the playoffs in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

It is no question that Colorado has the shooters to impress on offense, but often times this season they have failed to perform all 60 minutes of a game, which will be critical in the most important match of the year. John Grant, Jr. led Colorado’s offense with 91 points on the year (43+48), but according to Calgary defenseman Greg Harnett, “Junior” cannot be the only player to keep an eye on while he is on the floor.

As Colorado can pass as much as shoot, they have a wide arsenal of potential shooters should the Riggers get caught fishing on Grant, Jr. each shift. Adam Jones and Jordan McBride are key examples, each scoring over 20 goals this season as well.

Defensively, Tye Belanger was a crucial component in Colorado’s second-half surge en route to the franchise’s 10th postseason appearance.  At times, he has looked phenomenal, but he has also had off nights since being named the clear starter for the Mammoth. It could be a long night if Belanger cannot get settled early on.

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