One of the most intriguing subplots of a busy weekend of NLL action involves the reunion of newly-minted Vancouver Warriors general manager & head coach Curt Malawsky, and his former team, the visiting Calgary Roughnecks.
The Roughnecks visit the Warriors on Saturday night at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET. Watch the game on ESPN+ and TSN+.
Malawsky, the legendary player-turned-coach, is working his first season behind the bench in British Columbia after spending nearly 16 years with the Roughnecks as a player, coach and administrator. Malawsky’s tenure in Alberta’s largest city included an NLL championship on the floor in 2009 and on the bench in 2019.
After checking all the boxes in Calgary, Malawsky made the difficult decision to join the franchise based in his native Western Canada province. The 53-year-old is quick to point out that he left his former organization without the slightest bit of ill will.
“I have a lot really close friends on that team. Parting ways was very respectful and appreciative on both sides, coming off all the good stuff we were able to do in Calgary, both on and off the floor. The relationship is still very strong. That organization still means a lot to me,” he explained.
Malawsky noted the unique perspective that goes into preparing for a team that holds such a special place in his heart: “When you’re playing or coaching against someone you feel very dear about, you want to put your best foot forward and show them the respect they deserve by doing the best you possibly can against them.”
The Warriors’ sideline boss not only feels a high level of admiration for his nearly two decades of service in Calgary, but he remains 100 percent impressed with the group of players he led last season, along with the efforts of first-year head coach Josh Sanderson.
“They don’t have a lot of holes. They’re a very well-coached team, their offense is outstanding and their defense is amazing. They’ve done a really good job with Eli Salama and Zach Currier on the faceoff and they have world class goaltending in Christian Del Bianco,” distinguished Malawsky.
Remarkably, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer’s approach to scouting, film study and overall game preparation has felt quite different this week, with the brain even offering up a few instances of lacrosse-related confusion.
“I’m scouting their offense and defense just like me sitting down last year and breaking down video of our team. Yet, I’m on the other side looking to pick apart the defense and stymie the offense,” he opined.
Malawsky made it abundantly clear that the Roughnecks’ knowledge of the way he conducts his business more than supersedes all the little nuggets that he may identify about his longtime employer. With this in mind, winning the game may be the result of the coaching staff and players that are able to best navigate their way through the proverbial chess match.
“They know the structure I ran for years, and they’re still running some of it,” said Malawsky. “They know what I like to run and we’re running in Vancouver some of the same stuff we ran in Calgary. The familiarity with each other makes it even. It’s the game within the game and moving the chess pieces once the whistle blows. Everyone knows what to expect from each other, so the odd wrinkle here or there may make the difference.”
Fortunately for Malawsky, a preseason matchup against his former team has helped take some of the edge off of this rite of passage. While the desire for victory remains strong, much of the emotion that would normally come with a reunion of this nature has subsided a bit.
Malawsky does acknowledge that his eventual first visit to Calgary will conjure up a whole other series of feelings, but with no Warriors/Roughnecks rematches scheduled for this regular season, his return to the Westjet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome will have to wait until next season, unless the Warriors and Roughnecks meet in the playoffs.
How great would that be?
Despite a disappointing 1-3 start to his Warriors’ career, the Coquitlam native remains thrilled with his decision to take the Vancouver job. From the Aquilini Group (Warriors ownership) on down, the support and positivity has been everything the Malawsky family hoped and dreamed of.
“The support has been exceptional throughout Vancouver and the lacrosse community,” celebrated Malawsky. “Everywhere you go people are so positive. Despite our record, people like the direction the team is going, the moves that have been made and the product on the floor. The way we play the game has been noted by people in the lacrosse community whom I have a lot of respect for. I feel a buzz in the city, but fans know it’s going to take some time to turn things around.”
No matter the result of Saturday’s showdown, the man of the hour is not remotely bashful when it comes to singing the collective praises of his two most recent employers.
“Both organizations are first class. Both treat the players well. They care about players, staff and the on-court product. They both have great people in the background. Those running the rink, equipment people, the medical staff; there’s a lot of similarities between Calgary and Vancouver.”
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