The Halifax Thunderbirds have a chance to capture the first Alterna Cup this weekend as the NLL’s best Canadian club this season and punch their postseason ticket at the same time.
“To win the Alterna Cup and have bragging rights for the year over the other Canadian teams would be cool,” says Thunderbirds netminder Warren Hill, the former NCAA Syracuse goalie from Six Nations ON.
“I grew up with dreams of winning a Minto, a Mann and an NLL championship. We are a lacrosse community and those, along with the new Alterna Cup, are definitely on the bucket list.”
Standing in the way of Halifax (-1.5; O/U 22.5) is a key Alterna Cup match with the Calgary Roughnecks at WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday in the Sports Interaction Game of the Week on TSN (10pm ET/ESPN+).
“All we’re focused on is putting our best foot forward against a hungry Calgary team,” Hill says.
Both teams are eager for the win on Friday. The Thunderbirds are a perfect 4-0 in Alterna Cup action this season and in a position to claim the Canadian crown, while the 4-1 Roughnecks also still have a shot at the title if they beat Halifax on Friday.
The in-season Alterna Cup competition is based on head-to-head results from games between the five Canadian teams. The club with the best winning percentage in these games is the champion of the Great White North.
Halifax (9-5 overall in the East) and Calgary (6-7 in the West) are also fighting for playoff spots and currently both sit in third in their conferences.
“Both teams need the win and are in the hunt for a playoff spot,” says Hill, who is third in the league this season in goals-against average (9.71) and wins (8). “It will be important for us to get off to a good start and weather the storm early.”
Roughnecks captain Curtis Dickson, the former NCAA Delaware sniper from Port Coquitlam BC, sees Friday’s game the same way. The Thunderbirds are 5-0 this season when scoring first.
“Getting off to a good start is absolutely crucial,” says Dickson, who has a team-leading 28 goals. “Our last two games have gone in our favour because of our good starts. We do not want to play from behind, especially against these guys. They are a very good team right in the thick of their own playoff race, so they are going into this game just as hungry as we are.”
Calgary has won two straight games for the first time this season. Dickson scored the overtime game-winner last week against Vancouver to set up this week’s key Alterna Cup contest against Halifax.
“Friday is the biggest game of the season for us to this point so we need to be focused on the task at hand, and that is beating Halifax,” Dickson, the 2011 NLL Rookie of the Year and five-time Second Team All-Pro, says. “What’s important for us right now is winning lacrosse games. So if winning games means we win the Alterna Cup, then fantastic.”
The Thunderbirds are 2-3 on the road this season and their four remaining games, including Friday at Calgary, are all away from their comfy nest in Atlantic Canada, where they’re 7-2.
“I think we just got to take one game at a time and be ready to go,” says Halifax goaltender Hill. “Being at home obviously has its advantages and extra sense of energy. But now it’s up to us as players to find whatever gets us going and ready to play in these games on the road.”
If the Roughnecks prevent the Thunderbirds (2-0 versus Western Canadian teams this season) from claiming the Alterna Cup on Friday, deciding games will be played the following weekend on April 16 with Halifax at Toronto and Calgary at Vancouver. The Roughnecks also host Panther City this Saturday night (9pm ET).
While both Halifax and Calgary still have a shot at all-Canadian bragging rights, both teams are also still in the hunt for the NLL Cup. The Roughnecks are the reigning champions from 2019.
The Alterna Cup was introduced during the 2020 season, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unique trophy is a bronze-gold patina colour and based on a vertical geometric cup in the shape of a Canadian maple leaf with a hexagon base.
“The Alterna Cup would be cool to win,” says Calgary’s Dickson, who had nine goals in four playoff games during the postseason run to the 2019 title. “But at the end of the day, the league championship is our goal. When you can call yourself the best team in any given season, that is the ultimate goal.”