In their only meeting of the 2015 season, the Minnesota Swarm (5-10) will play for pride when they host the playoff-chasing Calgary Roughnecks (5-11) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on UniversalSports.com (desktop/laptop) & USN app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada.
The Roughnecks will be looking to keep its pace in the playoff race after earning a split last weekend against the Edmonton Rush (10-5), where the coaching staff was happy with the weekend and the team’s tough attitude.
“I thought it was a good weekend for us,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “We played very well on Friday night, we took them out of the rhythm a little bit, and put them in some spots that they weren’t comfortable with; and they did that to us in the fourth quarter. But going up to Edmonton I thought we didn’t start well, we knew they were going to come out hot, and they put a good run on us; but we were able to battle back.”
“I think the tale of two games was composure for us,” Malawsky added. “I think when it got tough in the first game we battled through it, you know zero penalties to seven was a big tell-tale sign for us to possibly fold up but we battled through that. Then in the second game, they were determined and resilient.”
A confidence boost from winning three of its last six games will surely help the ‘Necks play a good game against the Swarm, who are no longer in the NLL playoff race. However, at this point in the season there is no trap game in the Roughnecks vocabulary. The team is taking this game as seriously as any other, if they grip their sticks too tight they risk a chance of falling to Minnesota, further setting back their playoff aspirations. A hungry team like Minnesota in front of a home crowd can be dangerous, even more so now that its players know there will be some adjustments to the roster next year.
“To be honest, we’re fighting for everything that we need to fight for to get,” Malawsky stated. “I think over the last ten games we’ve played very well, and we’ve played some real tough opponents. The upper echelon in the NLL, and we’re better right now than we were last week, I can say that. We’re still fighting for our lives, we don’t want to limp our way into the last game against Vancouver. We’re going to continue to play well and if we continue to play well we’ll get the results on the scoreboard.”
“(The Swarm) are playing at home and they always play well there,” he added. “They want to have a good showing for their crowd, and they have young guys fighting for jobs. There’s no secret that they have a lot of draft picks and there’s going to be changes so I’d imagine that they’re going to have their best effort.”
The Roughnecks will close its 2015 NLL regular season with two road games, one against the Swarm and the next against the Vancouver Stealth (5-10). Finishing up on the road will be a test, but spending more time together travelling will increase chemistry on and off the field. The team is attempting to end the season running instead of stumbling as they have earlier this year.
“The guys like travelling together, they like hanging out together, I think it’s just what the doctor ordered the last couple of games here,” Malawsky remarked. “Minnesota here is a long trip and we have some things where the guys are going to spend some more time together.”
“We’re a veteran group that was put together for the long haul this season. I’ve been around long enough to look at it and say that’s a pretty tough sledding going 18. But, When you look at the back end of the season and you’re playing your last three or four and you have an opportunity to get back to the NLL playoffs, I think this is what that veteran group does; It doesn’t matter where we’re going to play whether it be at the ‘Dome or whether on the road.”
“This is why these guys play and there’s no fluke over the last ten games we’ve gotten that much better. We welcome any challenge on the road wherever it’s going to be, our full focus is on our team”
Roughnecks forward Shawn Evans broke the NLL single season point record with 117 points and counting. Evans is on track to break even more records this year, and he will surely play an integral part in the Roughnecks’ race for the playoffs.
“Obviously his role on the team he’s our floor general, most if not all the offense is generated from Shawny Evans,” Malawsky said. “He’s always around the ball, he’s always around the net, he’s always around the middle of the floor. He’s a special player with a lot of different tools in the shed. He’s tough kid, a competitor, a firey guy, and he brings that emotion to our team, and guys feed off of that. He grabs a lot of dirty loose balls, and makes everybody around him better”
“We’re going really lean on him down the stretch here in the next games against Minnesota and Vancouver, and hopefully on into the playoffs; because he’s not satisfied with what he’s done personally. He wants his team to get back to the pinnacle that we were at last year, and I think following his lead is going to put us in a pretty good direction.”
A good direction is all the Riggers all looking for as they head to Minnesota, putting its past behind them and focusing on the upcoming games.
“We’re really excited because the doldrums of the regular season are gone, and it’s now what these guys were brought in for, and why we made no changes, because we’ve got winners we’ve got champions. We believe in this group and this is when they’re going to step up,” Malawsky concluded.
The Swarm have already been knocked out of playoff contention, but that won’t stop them from bringing their all on Saturday night. Luck has not been on Minnesota’s side, as they lost two of their three assistant captains to injuries before the first half of their game against Buffalo last week. Even though they fell short by the end, the way the team was able to fight back without a couple of their key leaders was an indicator of the fight the team has left in them. With just three games until the completion of the season, now is the time for the younger Swarm players to step up and make their mark.
“It’s very disappointing to be eliminated and not go to the last game still fighting for the playoffs, but our guys are professionals,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “We’re banged up, so we’re going to have some young guys in the lineup next weekend really fighting for jobs for next year.”
The assistant captains who had to leave the game with injuries were forward Callum Crawford and transition player Jordan MacIntosh. MacIntosh is day-to-day with a sprained ankle and Crawford has been ruled out for the rest of the season with an upper body injury.
Shayne Jackson, the only member of the assistant captain trio who was able to play the entire game last week, stepped up to his new role in a big way. He had a career-high five goals and one assist in the contest, and his leadership both and on and off the field has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s leading our team in points, he’s really stepped up not only as an offensive threat and a goal scorer, but a leader on our team,” Caines said. “With us trading Suitor and losing a captain there, I think he’s stepped up into that role and he’s been great in the locker room. He’s really shown what he can do, five goals last game, so we’re pleased with his play.”
Entering the fourth game with their new team, Swarm forward Johnny Powless and transition Joel White continue to make an impact. Powless had four points in the game last week and White had two assists and 11 loose balls. Forward Miles Thompson, the team’s first round draft pick who has 52 points in his rookie year, put up two points and is expected to be an offensive threat on Saturday.
Another reason the Swarm will show up determined to give their best effort is for their steadfast home crowd. The perpetual roar of the fans at Xcel Energy Center is resounding at every game, and the Minnesota team will be focused on giving them a reason to be even louder.
“We’re going to compete and we’re going to put a show on for the fans and that’s going to be our main focus,” Caines said.
By Laura Bates (@RoughnecksBeat) & Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.