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Rivalry Week is Upon Us

Few things in life are more satisfying than getting the better of your fierce rival.

The Week 16 schedule is loaded with matchups where the games can get so heated I’m tense just writing about them. Who will get the better of whom this weekend? Will fists go flying? Will tears be shed? Only time will tell. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait much longer. Here are just a few of the games you should be keeping an eye on.

On Friday night, NLL fans will be treated to two exciting matchups that could knock their socks off. Depending on how physical those games get, it might knock some players’ socks off. To open the weekend, the Calgary Roughnecks host the Saskatchewan Rush. That game will be succeeded by the Warriors hosting the San Diego Seals.

When the Rush travel to Calgary for their Friday night duel, it will mark the 55th time these two teams have squared off during the regular season – they’ve also faced off 11 times in the postseason, but we’ll get to that shortly.

The last time these clubs met, the Roughnecks had their way with the Rush, primarily due to a 10-3 shellacking over the final 30 minutes. The Roughnecks have beaten the Rush in their last five regular season meetings – the last time the Rush beat the Roughnecks during the regular season was March 2, 2019. But, when it comes to postseason meetings between these teams, it’s the Rush that have had the upper hand. Of the 11 matchups between these teams during the NLL Playoffs, eight have been won by the Rush. However, the Rush’s dominance against the Roughnecks in the postseason was a long time ago. The last time the Rush beat the Roughnecks in the postseason was in May of 2018 during the 2018 West Conference Finals – the Rush were victorious by a scoreline of 15-13.

The Roughnecks’ newest Captain, Jesse King, wasn’t with the Roughnecks when the Rush won that playoff game five years ago, but he knows very well how tough the Rush can be. In 2017, while King was with the Georgia Swarm, the Swarm competed against the rush in the NLL Finals. Although King was out all that year due to injury, his Swarm defeated the Rush two games to none to beat the West’s best that year.

Unfortunately, if you’re not a fan of the Rush, you’ll also remember that they won three championships from 2015-18. King remembers the Rush dynasty of old, which makes beating them now taste much sweeter.

“It’s always nice to beat them because of how spectacular they were for so long,” King said. “Now, with Josh [Currier] on our team, he’s got that extra little chip on his shoulder when he plays against them as well, which makes it even more of a rivalry. We’ve been pretty successful against them the last couple of years, so, you could imagine on their side, they’re probably wanting to raise the heat on the rivalry.”

A win for the Roughnecks on Friday night would do more than move them to 9-4 this year; it would give them the season series over the Rush, which could make a big difference in the final weeks of the season. A win for the Rush would mean that this series will be decided in their third and final meeting this season in Week 17. Find out who takes the W on Friday night. The ball drops at 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT on ESPN+/TSN+.

The later game Friday night is going to be a good one – don’t let the team’s records fool you. The Warriors are hosting the West-leading Seals. The Warriors have begun turning things around, and it’s not too late in the season – based on how competitive the West has been thus far, they are still able to make the playoffs. The Seals can match their best 11-game start in franchise history (9-2) if they grab the road win.

Reid Bowering of the Warriors, who is having another incredible year, is on pace to challenge the single-season record in loose balls. If he were to break Jay Thorimbert’s record while also barely taking any face-offs, that would be remarkable. Bowering is known not just for scooping up loose balls. He leads the NLL in blocked shots with 18 and is fifth in caused turnovers with 21. He explains how that type of physicality is going to be a noticeable part of Friday’s game, just as it has been every game they’ve battled.

“It’s not hard to get excited for a game against the Seals,” Bowering said. “We both play physical games, so I’m sure it’ll be no different on Friday. With our record, we essentially need to win the rest of our games to make the playoffs, and I know everyone in our locker room believes we can do it. This game is the most important one of the season so far.”

Aaron Bold has been another bright spot for the Warriors. He’s won two of his three starts with the team, and his five goals allowed in his last game indicates how good he was between the pipes. But how will he fair against the gauntlet of Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie, Wes Berg, Austin Staats, Kevin Crowley, and company? Dobbie and Dickson have combined for 60 goals in 10 games so far this year – that’s six goals per game.

This might end up being the most physical game of the weekend. While many of these guys are friendly off the floor (a handful of these guys from both teams live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia), they are all fierce competitors who usually get under each other’s skin. Can Vancouver stretch their winning streak to three games, or will San Diego continue winning at an incredibly impressive rate? Game time is 10pm ET/7pm PT.

If you thought that that slate of games on Friday night was grab-your-popcorn, don’t-leave-the-couch, must-watch TV, those two contests are just the beginning. There are five games on Saturday, with the Georgia Swarm at Philadelphia Wings starting at 11am ET/8am PT. Who doesn’t like a bowl of cereal and some OJ with your Saturday morning lacrosse?

The Toronto Rock play the Halifax Thunderbirds, and the Rock can sweep the two-game season-series on with a win on Saturday. More importantly to them, if the Rock win, moving them to 11-3 this season, they clinch an East Conference playoff berth. This will be the 65th meeting between these two franchises (this, of course, goes back to the days when the Thunderbirds were the old Knighthawks). Historically, it has been a very close series with the Thunderbirds organization winning 35 of the 64 previous meetings. The next rendition of this frequent meet-up will start on Saturday at 6pm ET/3pm PT.

Another team that has an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot this weekend is the Buffalo Bandits. Despite being riddled with injuries throughout the year, the Bandits keep finding ways to win. At 10-2, they have the best record in the NLL. They are in such a commanding position at the top of the East right now that they don’t ever have to win to clinch a playoff berth. They can still get into the playoffs just by the Thunderbirds losing to the Rock or if the Wings lose both of their games in Week 16.

The Bandits will be challenged this weekend by the one team that made them suffer their most painful losses last season. It will be a rematch of the 2022 NLL Finals between the Bandits and the Mammoth, although both teams might look very different. We do not know if Chase Fraser, Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, and Tehoka Nanticoke will be playing for the Bandits, and we don’t know if Ryan Lee, Rhys Duch, Eli McLaughlin, and Connor Robinson will all be playing for the Mammoth (although Lee did miss last year’s finals and McLaughlin missed games 2 and 3). Nevertheless, the hungry-for-a-championship Dhane Smith is ready to add another W to the Bandits’ record this year.

“Obviously, we know how important this game is,” Smith said. “We know how much hype is around this game – last time we played, they won a championship in Banditland. That being said, we aren’t worried about last year. We are focused on this year, and we want to show them we are a different team. We are excited for the challenge ahead, but not because it’s a rematch of the finals, but because it’s an opportunity to climb in the standings this year.”

If the Bandits can grab a redemption win on Saturday night, it will put the defending champs in an uncomfortable hole they’ll need to climb out of if they even want to be part of the postseason again. Currently, the Mammoth are tied with the Rush for the 4th spot in the West (although they are technically 5th in the conference). If the top teams in the West keep winning at the same rate, the Mammoth will need some help from the Rush and even teams in the East conference even to have a shot at that 4th position that could go to an East team. The Mammoth would much rather things not get so complicated, so to avoid all that, winning at all costs is key. The NLL Finals rematch begins at 7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT

One final matchup I would keep my eye on is the Sunday matinee contest between the Wings and the Knighthawks that starts at 3pm ET/12pm PT. The Wings have looked like a much better team since Mitch Jones joined the club at the beginning of February. Now they need to show the box lacrosse world that they can be much more than a team that hovers around a .500 record – in the three seasons following their inaugural 4-14 year, the Wings have gone 22-21 in the regular season with an 0-1 record in the postseason.

Until this year, the Knighthawks faired much worse, but now the Knighthawks have risen from the ashes and have transformed into one of the most feared teams in the East. At 9-3, the Knighthawks sit comfortably in the East’s third spot. But think about that for a second; the third-best team in the East has a 9-3 record.

The Wings are trying to be on the hunt right behind them but need to start stringing more wins together to do so, especially in games like this weekend when they face each other. What’s so intriguing about this game this weekend is that this is the first of three meetings between these clubs this season. That means that anything and everything can change in the standings depending on the outcomes of these games. These teams also play each other in the season’s final week, so it could come down to the wire for these two playoff hopefuls.

Blaze Riordan has been with the Wings through it all, and he wants his team to win, but these games against Rochester are special for him. Riorden grew up in a suburb of Rochester and grew up going to Knighthawks games. As an adult, he can put his childhood memories aside for every 60-minute frame he goes up against his childhood team. He wants to win for the club that adopted him, and he believes he has the formula to make that happen.

“Rochester is a tough team that is backed by great goaltending,” Riorden said. “We can’t skip corners. We need to make the hustle plays and do it for a full 60 minutes.”

Whether you’ll be tuning in to watch any of the games cited above or if you’ll be watching another one of the great matchups this weekend, having eight games on the docket in one weekend is a box lacrosse fan’s dream. The fact that so many rivals will be clashing helmet-to-helmet makes it that much better.

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