The Calgary Roughnecks (2-8) will welcome the New England Black Wolves (3-5) to Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday at 9 p.m. ET for their first and final matchup of the 2015 regular season. Watch live on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
After a 13-7 defeat to the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend, Calgary is taking every remaining game as a must-win situation.
“We had a good first half against Rochester,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “Then the second half they came out hungrier and they wanted it more. They took the next thirty minutes, which was the game. I think that our guys need to understand that the window is closing, I still think we control our own destiny but the window is definitely closing.”
“The guys have to decide this weekend whether they really care enough to continue on, or if they are happy with where they are going to be.” Malawsky added. “I’m challenging the boys this weekend there’s no question, and they need to step up and this is the weekend to do it there’s no more tomorrow.”
The ‘Necks are aiming to improve its performances in all aspects while preparing for the game against the Black Wolves. Defenseman Mike Carnegie, now in his seventh year with the franchise, believes that the team needs to trust each other to be successful.
“Our starts haven’t been great all year,” Carnegie admitted. “I think that’s something we can work on, just staying focused sticking with the process and trusting each other.”
The Riggers coaching staff will be concentrating on the team’s offensive end and their main goal is to create a more versatile strategy for the upcoming game.
“We want to be a multi-faceted offense where you can’t just rely on shutting down (Curtis) Dickson or rely on shutting down Evvy (Shawn Evans),” Malawsky said. “Everybody’s gotta be involved, you only got six guys up there so you gotta try to make the most of them. The last couple of games we’ve only had two or three goal scorers. So that’s something that we’re going to definitely address.”
“We have to get back to sharing the work sharing the load and sharing the responsibility in the offensive end,” he added.
The coaching staff expects that improving offensively might be a little easier after signing NLL veteran forward Sean Pollock. With 524 career points (207 goals and 317 assists), and 12 years of experience playing in the NLL, Pollock is expected to be an asset for the team.
“He’s been a target of our organization and our coaching staff for the last three or four years,” Malawsky admitted. “We think he’s a phenomenal off-ball player… He plays in the dirty areas. I thought Rochester put a few on our wrists, and a few on our tailbones and our guys didn’t want to go to the dirty areas. Pollock is a guy that will go to the dirty areas, will score those tough goals, and he’ll grab those tough loose balls.”
The Roughnecks are very excited to welcome him to the team, and Pollock should make a smooth transition into the lineup.
“He knows the lanes that Evy (Shawn Evans) and (Curtis) Dickson like to play in, and knows where to get into and when to get out of them; he’s got great polish around the net,” Malawsky said. “Great all-around team guy and a great all-around character.”
Riggers transition player Geoff Snider will also be joining the team Friday night after missing a game due to an injury.
As for the rough season, Malawsky has not given up on his team, he believes that the struggles the ‘Necks face is a lesson to be learned, for the team, and for himself.
“We are where we are, we gotta embrace it, I’m embracing it as a coach, and I think our players are embracing it as athletes and as a group. It’s always easy to ride high on the hog and everything goes well for you, but when you’re down in the dumps, down in the bottom of the league, it really shows your character.”
“I said from day one, we’re gonna do this together and we continue to believe in it. It has been a great challenge as a coach, and I think it’s only gonna make our coaching staff better as a group knowing where we come from. We really think we can write an epic story… I think we can turn this around and get to where we need to get to,” Malawsky concluded.
For the Black Wolves, the team ended a five-game skid last week by beating the Minnesota Swarm 10-9 and look to continue its newfound success with a second-straight road game. The pack is happy to finally stop the bleeding and get back in the playoff race.
“It felt good, especially after taking it on the chin five in a row and having two long weeks to stew about it,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “I always find that wins are hard to come by in this league, so every time you can get one, it’s always a nice feeling. Under the circumstances, it’s certainly nice to get that monkey off our back for a little bit.”
In their win over Minnesota, the Black Wolves jumped out to an early lead and kept the pressure on throughout the game. The Swarm did not give up easily, but in the end a timely goal by a Kevin Crowley gave the Black Wolves the win. Though Crowley had the game winner, the game’s main contributors were rookies Sheldon Burns and Mark Cockerton. This has been a pattern all season, as key injuries and a losing streak forced the Black Wolves to put rookies in the games earlier than anticipated.
“It certainly has been a baptism by fire,” noted Harrison. “We didn’t have the luxury of folding them into the lineup on a gentle glide path. They had to come in, jump in on defense feet first. Sheldon Burns is starting to play well on the back end and Mark Cockerton is starting to feel more comfortable and more confident with his role. It’s good to see.”
The five-game losing streak proved to be a major chip on the Black Wolves’ shoulder; however, there were some bright spots in the games to help the pack move forward. The rookies that fill most of the roster have really come into their own and with veterans leading the way; the pack is becoming stronger with each game. While most teams would see the losses for what they were, for the Black Wolves it was all about getting comfortable on the roller coaster of having a youthful roster.
“We came into the season knowing that we were going to be on the younger side,” said Harrison. “We were prepared for the roller coaster that goes along with having a young team. I didn’t think the ups and downs would be as dramatic as they have been, but that’s the way it is. Hopefully our window continues to stay open; the longer we can go and still be relevant from a playoff perspective.”
One of the Black Wolves’ problems has been the inconsistency of their goaltending. Starting goaltender Evan Kirk started the season with a save percentage of 84% over two games, and he cooled off very quickly along with the rest of the pack. During the five-game slide, Kirk allowed an average of roughly 13 goals and had a save percentage of only 66%. After two weeks to mull everything over and a strong performance against the Swarm, the veteran goaltender seems to be getting his mental focus back again.
“As we talk through it, goaltending is a key piece of any team sport, whether its hockey or lacrosse,” Harrison said. “It seems to me you’re always as good as your goaltender. We’ve gone up and down and Evan would be the first guy to raise his hand and say he could do better, particularly over that five-game stretch. I think it’s really more between the years. Being more mentally focused and not dwell on the last one. If one goes by, he’s learning it is what it is, and it’s time to move on and focus on the next shot. The more he does that, the better he is.”
The Black Wolves are attempting to balance the need to constantly readjust and fix mental errors, while also preparing for another road game. The pack is well aware of the threat the Roughnecks represent and is focused on getting into mental shape for Friday’s game. Looking at Calgary’s strong offense and clear hunger to get back in the playoff run, the Black Wolves are in for a fight.
“It’s certainly a tough place to play, it’s a historic franchise,” Harrison said. “To be perfectly honest, there’s enough on our plate to keep us busy just trying to eliminate mental errors and cleaning up a bunch of stuff. That occupies a lot of our time, and we certainly know all about them [the Roughnecks]. They’ve got fabulous goal scorers and offensive players and a really solid defense that likes to run. There’s enough to keep us busy on that side of the spectrum as well.”
By Laura Bates (@RoughnecksBeat) & Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Rob McMorris.