Here we go again.
The West Conference Finals kicks off this week between the Colorado Mammoth and the Calgary Roughnecks with a rare Thursday night matchup – the last Thursday night game was during the 2021-22 season between the Roughnecks and the Saskatchewan Rush.
Thursday’s Game 1 of this best-of-3 series will be the NLL playoff record 13th matchup between these clubs. That surpasses the 12 matchups between the Buffalo Bandits and the old Rochester Knighthawks (now Halifax Thunderbirds) and the 12 matchups between the Toronto Rock and the old Rochester Knighthawks (now Halifax Thunderbirds).
If the series between the Mammoth and Roughnecks goes three games, we’ll be watching the 13th, 14th, and 15th postseason games between these two clubs. For the record, the Bandits and Rock, who are squaring off in the East Conference Finals and will be playing in their 9th, 10th, (and possibly) 11th playoff games between each other.
Yet, despite all of the history between the Mammoth and the Roughnecks, both teams are not spending one second thinking about what went down between them in years past or even this season. Roughnecks Head Coach Curt Malawsky has his team focused in one direction: forward.
“The playoffs are a whole different season altogether,” Malawsky said. “The [regular season games] mean nothing. Obviously, we’re going to watch some film, see what happened in those games, and watch some of their last games. But, as far as we beat them two times, and they only beat us once, it means zero.”
The Mammoth’s Goaltender, Dillon Ward, agrees with Malawsky’s assessment.
“The stakes have been heightened,” Ward said. “These games are going to mean a lot more, not to say the regular season doesn’t matter, but obviously, the playoffs mean more than the regular season. It’s just going to be that much tougher. We know that if we come out with a lame effort like we did in the regular season, we’re getting the same results as we did during the regular season.”
While it might not matter to the teams competing this week what happened in the past, looking back can provide us with some interesting insight. Over the 12 playoff games in this rivalry, the Roughnecks are 10-2 in those contests- all win-or-go-home games, including on the way to their 2019 title. However, in the two years that the Mammoth won and moved on to the next round (2006 and 2022), they ended up winning the title.
Roughnecks Goaltender, Christian Del Bianco, is ready to make a statement during this series. With Games 1 & 2 being played two days apart (Thursday in Colorado and Saturday in Calgary), we will see how travel, exhaustion, and a change of surroundings affect the outcome of the second game. Note: If there is to be a Game 3, it will be played on Saturday, May 20th.
“These series, in my opinion, are better,” Del Bianco said. “It really shows who is the better team. With those one-gamers, you just really never know and are kind of swinging for the fences – that’s not me saying maybe one of us wasn’t the better team – that’s just the reality of it: who’s better that night. The three-game series gives you a bit more of a sample size. That doesn’t mean you can have an off game; it’s just that the league is so competitive, a one-game series doesn’t always prove who’s the top team.”
Fans will be in for a treat once this series starts. These games are always physical, and both teams bring their A-game, and the results of the matches show that. Of the 12 previous times these teams have met up in the playoffs, three of those games have been decided by one goal (all three went to OT), and three other games have been decided by three goals or less. The competition on the floor will be fierce, no doubt, but, as Ward said, a lot of that comes from the great respect these teams have for each other and understanding what each of them are capable of.
“They’re a great team,” Ward said. “They’re young, work really hard, and they’re well-coached. Nothing is going to come easy; everything is going to be a battle. From every face-off to every ground ball to every shot on goal, it will be a battle up and down the floor. That’s been the history of our games with Calgary, especially during the playoffs. In the playoffs, it always seems to come down to a play here or a play there being the difference in a game, and I don’t see this series going any different.”
Each team will be leaving it all out on the floor(s) this weekend in hopes of locking up a series victory and earning a spot in the NLL Finals.
Even though the Roughnecks had the better record during the regular season (13-5 compared to the Mammoth’s 9-9), they say the public and media have been writing them off against the Mammoth.
“All year long, people have written us off, and I know we’re getting written off against the champs here,” Malawsky said. “We’re just going to fight and scrap here for every little inch of the floor we can. We’re going to fight to the final whistle.”
Make sure to catch every game on TSN, TSN+, or ESPN+. You will not want to miss a second of this series. History means nothing, while the future means everything.