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Round 1: Rush At Roughnecks For ‘Battle Of Alberta’

Saturday night will mark the first of four installments of the ‘Battle of Alberta’ when the Edmonton Rush (0-2) visit Cowtown to take on the Calgary Roughnecks (0-2) at Scotiabank Saddledome. Watch the game live on TSN2 (Canada) and WatchESPN (U.S.) starting at 9 p.m. ET with both teams still seeking their first win.

The rivalry game comes just three days after the Roughnecks announced the re-signing of head coach and assistant general manager Curt Malawsky to a multi-year contract extension.

“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity to be with such a great organization,” Malawsky said. “They’re (Calgary) a first-class organization from top to bottom and they treat the players and coaches exceptionally well.”

“I finished my career in Calgary, won a championship there and there’s no other place I’d rather be. I bleed black and red, that’s my home, they’re my family now and I’m very very excited to move forward in the future.”

In that near future, Malawsky and company will take on the Rush, a team that handled Calgary with ease in the preseason, winning 11-3.

“Last time we played them, they pretty much embarrassed us in front of our home crowd,” Malawsky said. “The challenge for us is defensively, we’ve let in a lot of goals in transition and I think we need to clean up our backyard first and foremost.”

Calgary’s second year transition player Karsen Leung couldn’t agree more with his coach.

“I think just from watching the games, we can communicate a little bit better,” Leung said. “It’s early on in the season, but I think it’s just getting our chemistry back.”

“The major thing is just talking a little bit more out there,” he added. “It seems we’re kind of getting lost at times so hopefully we can fix that.”

Calgary and Edmonton both had a bye week last weekend and haven’t played since January 10. Both the Roughnecks and Rush have started the 2015 NLL season with two losses with Calgary dropping their latest contest in overtime to the Colorado Mammoth.

“We really focused on our fitness,” Malawsky said. “I really believe you can get really fit in 10 to 14 days…that was one thing we really focused on in the bye week.”

Malawsky says the reality of this weekend is one team will lose three straight to start the season, and made it very clear he didn’t want that team to be his.

“The guys have the film, they’re looking at the film and the coaches are preparing everything,” Malawsky said. “We’re both 0-2 so the reality is someone is going to be 0-3.”

“Going into this game, it’s huge,” Leung added. “It’s going to be a dog fight and no one wants to be down 0-3 after this weekend, so we’re excited to start playing again.”

The Riggers have been outscored 35-30 so far this season and Malawsky knows the boys are going to have to put in a complete game in order to come out with a win in this one.

“The team that puts those four quarters together is the team that’s going to be successful,” Malawsky remarked. “We’re all looking forward to another great Battle of Alberta.”

While Malawsky’s extension was a talking point earlier in the week, big news came out of Edmonton this weekend when the team announced that Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan will return behind the bench on Saturday night.

“I am very grateful for the support and privacy recently received from the Rush organization, especially our assistant coaches, along with the players and fans,” Keenan said. “The time now is to focus on the game plan for the 2015 NLL season and bringing the Champion’s Cup to Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place.”

Keenan had announced at the beginning of the season that he would be taking a leave from bench duties to be with his wife Wendy, who passed away earlier this month after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“There was a never a timeframe set for Derek’s return as the needs of his family had to be the first priority,” said Rush owner Bruce Urban. “Derek is immensely respected by the players and fans, and I know that they all will be very excited upon his return.”

For the Rush, an 0-­2 start is startling considering the team’s 14­-0 start to last season but last year’s results do not have any impact right now.

The last time Edmonton played was Week 2 when they allowed the Minnesota Swarm to erase a six-goal deficit with an impressive 11­-1 run to end the game. For Rush assistant coach Jeff McComb, it’s all about continual improvement.

“It doesn’t sit well with you being 0-­2, it’s not a position we want to be in or thought we would necessarily be in but this league is what it is,” he said. “It’s nine teams that can win on every given weekend and we weren’t good enough the last two weeks so we focused on making sure we are better this weekend.”

After two games this season, Edmonton has posted the lowest offensive output in the league by totaling only 18 goals, with just 12 of them coming 5-on-5.

“It’s certainly an area we need to improve on through two games,” McComb said. “At the end of the day, I think we need to execute a little better and that’s playing a little more physical on offense.”

The Rush made a roster move this week by trading Corey Small to the Vancouver Stealth in exchange for first-round picks in 2016 and 2019.

“One of the things is we wanted to get back to our lineup mix of last year when we played with four [righties] on ‘O’ and three lefties because we were successful then,” McComb said. “It does give Mark Matthews more touches and Greer a little more floor time.”

“Corey’s a great player and there’s no doubt about that, probably an even better individual. But at the end of the day, we just thought that for our chemistry for our group is that we’re probably better off to get back to where we were last year with three lefts. And you know you’re always making a gamble when you do that, especially when you’re trading a player of Corey’s caliber.”

Zack Greer currently has 99 career goals and could score number 100 on Saturday night. Mark Matthews leads the Rush in points with 10 (4+6).

The last time Edmonton and Calgary played in an official game, the Roughnecks won the Game 3 mini­-game of the West Division Finals that sent them to the NLL Champion’s Cup Finals.

Story by Kassidy Collins (@RoughnecksBeat) and Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Brad Watson.

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