The Calgary Roughnecks (0-5) shoot for their first win of the season when they visit the Vancouver Stealth (2-3) at Langley Events Centre on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN.ca in Canada. Adding to the excitement, Calgary-born wrestling legend Bret Hart will help kick off the “Hart-Breaker” festivities on Valentine’s Day at the LEC.
For the Stealth, it’s all about the mindset as the team looks to channel the same type of aggression and toughness demonstrated by the team’s special guest.
“Every week we have to have that (tough) guy mentality,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “We go into Colorado and we don’t have it and we lost badly. I think we learned from that and in (in the rematch) we were focused and determined.”
Perreault was referring to last month when the Stealth lost 20-9 to the Colorado Mammoth one week in Denver but took the rematch 16-13 at the Langley Events Centre the following week. The loss was the first of the season for Colorado (3-1) who had been the National Lacrosse League’s last remaining unbeaten team.
Perreault also didn’t want to read too much into the Roughnecks’ record. The team is virtually the same squad that came up just short in the NLL Champion’s Cup last season.
“We know we are going to be in a battle, Calgary is a very good team, a very dangerous team,” Perreault said. “We know we are going to have our hands full.”
The Stealth snapped a three-game losing streak thanks to a much better offensive attack in their last game on Jan. 28, prior to the team’s bye week.
Corey Small, whom the team acquired last month, has put up 11 points in two games. The left-hander has also scored on four of his nine shots.
“The first game was obviously difficult,” he said about the road loss in Denver. “I was coming into a team without having an opportunity to build some chemistry with the offensive guys.”
“But having one game under our belts … we shared the ball a lot more on offence,” he added. “(Coach) pointed out to us after that first Colorado game, we had made something like 1.5 passes per possession, which is embarrassing.
“That was our focus on offense, multiple swings each time we were on the floor and making sure we were utilizing everybody on the floor out there and it resulted in a bunch of big games for our offensive players.”
Small (2+6), Johnny Powless (4+2), Rhys Duch (2+5), Tyler Digby (1+6) and Joel McCready (3+1) all had big games to lead the Vancouver offense while the defense bounced back by holding John Grant Jr. and Adam Jones to a combined one goal. That marked the first time in their careers the duo had been held to a single goal in a game which they played.
A big difference was the return of Chris O’Dougherty to the line-up to stabilize the back-end.
And Perreault said Tyler Garrison looks good to go this weekend while Rory Smith could also be back.
Perreault also said he is not concerned the team may have lost any momentum from the victory with the bye week.
“We didn’t just take two weeks off and have a holiday, we prepared,” he said. “It gave the coaching a staff a chance to talk to a lot of the players and have some good discussions.
“We know we are going to have a fight, a battle with Calgary.”
For the Roughnecks, the team is searching for answers after losing its fifth-straight game with last weekend’s 15-14 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bandits.
“Being 0-3, I think we deserved to be 0-3,” Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky said. “Now being 0-5, I think it could have went either way. From a work ethic standpoint, I think the guys worked extremely hard in the last two games and it’s unfortunate.”
The Riggers have been in three one-goal games so far this season and could very well be a 3-2 team. Thanks to some bad bounces and hitting the post in overtime last weekend, the ‘Necks are still looking for that first elusive victory of the season.
“You play those one-goal games and it just doesn’t go your way,” Malawsky said. “You hit a couple posts in overtime last game and I thought we deserved better.”
“Now there’s some adversity, and a lot of it,” Malawsky added. “We’re battling hard through it and it’s a testament to our guys. The character they have, the ability to re-focus and just look forward… we’re a pretty focused group right now and a pretty pissed off group too.”
“There’s no finger pointing, we’re not panicking, we’re just continuing to battle and trusting in ourselves. If guys continue to do that, continue to believe in what we got going, things are going to turn around and we’re excited to get going this weekend.“
Roughneck’s defenseman Jon Harnett is in his fifth season with the club and knows his team has what it takes to turn things around.
“The last two weeks, two one-goal games, but those happen a lot in this league,“ the 6’1”, 185-pound defender said. “It’s a very close league, we just need to find a way to pull those games out and we got the group to do that.”
Roughnecks star forward Shawn Evans continues to be a glimmer of hope for the Riggers this season picking up eight points (2+8) in the loss to Buffalo last weekend. Evans now sits atop the NLL in points (40), third in goals (15) and second in assists (25) in five games played, and is on pace for what would be an NLL-record 144 points. But Malawsky knows he’s going to need his whole team to show up this weekend if they have any hope of beating Vancouver.
“They (Vancouver) move the ball very very well,” Malawsky admitted. “They’re sharing the work, they’re sharing the load, they’re sharing the responsibility on the floor. It’s a very dynamic offense, they’re a lot different from week one and it’s tough when everyone on the offensive end is really contributing. It’s hard to defend, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Stealth lost all four games to the Roughnecks last season, but found redemption handing the ‘Necks its first loss of the year in their home opener, 18-14.
“I think their goaltender is playing well,” Malawsky said. “He’s an intelligent goaltender and defensively, they’re not chasing around and they’re middle is tight, we’re going to have to be at our absolute best. They’re playing really good lacrosse right now so it’s going to be a challenge for us and we’re going to have to play a complete 60-minute game to be successful there Saturday night.”
If Calgary loses to Vancouver this weekend, they would extend its franchise worst record to start a season to 0-6.
“We’re going to embrace the challenge,” Harnett said. “This is a must-win game for us, we can’t fall to 0-6. That’s not even in our minds right now. Our mindset is to even up the season series with the Stealth and that’s what we plan on doing Saturday.”
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) & Kassidy Collins (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Derek Stevens.