The Calgary Roughnecks (6-4) host Edmonton Rush (9-0) at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday at 9pm ET. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
The undefeated Edmonton Rush (9-0) visit their Alberta rival Calgary Roughnecks (6-4) at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
The Rush are the top team in the NLL and off to the best start in league history for one single reason.
More so than any other time in the franchise's existence, the Rush are playing as a team. And every member of the team will need to step up as they face a huge threat to their perfect 9-0 start when they clash with the Roughnecks in the NLL's Battle of Alberta. The second of four installments in the provincial rivalry takes place on Friday at the Saddledome.
"Everyone has put the team first and we have 20 guys willing to do whatever is asked of them," said Rush assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan. "There are no agendas, no complaints. Everyone is pulling the rope."
Quinlan singled out forward Cory Conway as one of the biggest examples of this philosophy.
"He's been willing to be a role player at times and then at other times he's the guy taking the ball and leading the way," said Quinlan. "He's been very dynamic and versatile and he's been better each games. He's got a lot of confidence and shooting the ball more and when he fires the ball from the outside it pays off for our lefties and our other righties. He's excellent at creating space.
"The coaches have been preaching for everyone to buy in and he's really done that."
It won't be easy for the Rush to lasso the Roughnecks, who boast the NLL's most-potent offense including top shooters like Dane Dobbie, Jeff Shattler, and Shawn Evans. But the Saddledome has been where the Rush have mustered up some of the biggest wins in franchise history. Among them, the first win in Rush history came in Calgary and the Rush shockingly dropped the Roughnecks in a pair of West Division Semifinal matchups in the only two playoff clashes between the rivals.
The Rush are also on a serious tear of being the NLL's most dominant road warriors. Edmonton has won 10 regular-season road games in a row dating back to last season. That streak includes a win in Calgary, but the Rush's last road loss came on the Roughnecks' home turf last February.
"It's a very tough place to get a win," said Rush leading scorer Mark Matthews. "We have not started well or finished that well of late so we need to sharpen things up to get a big win there."
Most of that sharpening will come in the lead-up to Friday's game and was strong pointed out in head coach Derek Keenan's post-game synopsis after the Rush slipped past Vancouver 10-9 last Saturday at Rexall Place. The win was a good one as the Rush showed plenty of grit in dominating most of the fourth quarter, but they wouldn't have needed the late surge if they'd have beared down the fundamentals. Repairing those minor breakdowns starts in practice and shootrarounds and then carries right into the heat of battle come game time.
"He was alluding to missing simple swing passes and not getting the ball back inside when we have a guy open, defensively having some breakdowns in our principles, or just throwing a couple of balls away or over-running a loose ball," said Quinlan. "It's about getting back to the basics and making sure we've got the ball before we leave the zone or taking pride in our passes whether it's a breakout pass or a pass that start our offense.
"It's all correctable and if we start to make those corrections we'll see some better results. It's simply a matter of focusing and putting a little more attention to the details."
Meanwhile, the Roughnecks are coming off a rough overtime loss last weekend to the Colorado Mammoth, snapping the Necks’ four-game winning streak. After building an early lead, Calgary didn’t play a complete game in Denver and fell short by a score of 10-9.
“It was a tough go down in Colorado, thought the guys played good for about 21 minutes,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “We were in the penalty box for the other 19 and went dormant for the other 20. You can’t win in the NLL playing like that and I think our guys learned from it.”
According to Malawsky, not everything went bad in Colorado.
“We were pretty resilient," he said. "We didn’t fold up shop, we just kept on battling and I thought we had a real good opportunity to win it in the last minute and the first couple possessions in overtime.”
The Riggers can’t afford to dwell on the loss as the Rush roll into Cowtown. The last time these two teams met, the Rush hammered the 'Necks, beating them 15-8. Malawsky hasn’t forgotten the loss.
“I think the guys are going to take away from how handily they beat us," he said before adding the rivalry between the two teams is still very much alive. “I know there were some things said in the handshake that our guys aren’t going to forget about, so that’s going to motivate our guys."
The Roughnecks offense has been firing on all cylinders, netting 123 goals so far this season. Rush assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan says his team is well aware of Calgary’s firepower.
“We’ve always looked at them (Calgary) as the big brother down the road, they’re the measuring stick for us, they have an offense that leads the league in goals, despite playing less games.”
The Rush however, have the number one defense in the league- allowing 73 goals against in nine games.
“They’re solid from top to bottom, right from the goaltender out,” said Malawsky. “If you take your foot off the pedal at any moment of time in that game you’re going to get buried, you get down and they’ll step on your throat.”
This is a huge game for the Riggers as they try to make up ground on the Rush for first in the West. Roughnecks defenseman Dan MacRae is looking forward to the tilt.
“This is a good chance for us to start making up some ground against a team that isn’t leaving us much to grab on to," MacRae said. "We’re going to take the good things from the loss and bring them in to our barn where we feel pretty confident no matter who we’re playing against.”
The Roughnecks will meet up with the Rush two more times after Friday night’s matchup, but Malawsky isn’t looking past this one.
“We’re hoping to put in a complete game here and see where we end up after 60 minutes," he said. "They’re a solid group and if we don’t put it in 60 (minutes), you don’t have a chance going in. We’re going to need our best and I fully expect our best from our guys.”
MacRae looks forward to getting back in the 'Dome in front of their passionate fanbase, especially against their provincial rival Edmonton.
“We feel we have the best fans in the league," he said. "They’re loud and they definitely help us out when we get on a run.”