It all comes down to the wire this weekend to find out who’s best in the NLL’s wild West.
The conference-leading Colorado Mammoth are tusks up as they head north to the Rough House for a playoff-like date with the tied for second-place Calgary Roughnecks (-1.5; O/U 21.5) at WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday in the Sports Interaction Game of the Week on TSN (9pm ET, also available on ESPN+).
The 10-7 Mammoth, 9-8 Roughnecks and San Diego Seals (also 9-8) have all qualified for the postseason but the teams could all finish anywhere from first to third in the West Conference. On the line is at least one home playoff game, and possibly a shot at further home-field advantage when it matters most.
The Seals play at Vancouver later Saturday (10pm ET/TSN.ca and ESPN+). San Diego has lost six straight games.
Colorado would capture the West regular season title with a win at Calgary.
“We are in charge of our own fate at this point,” says Mammoth captain Robert Hope. “That is all we are worrying about. We want to finish as high as possible in the standings and head into playoffs on the right foot. We are taking this game as a playoff game. Calgary is a great team and it will be a great test for us.”
A Roughnecks win would give them a home playoff date for sure, and they would win the West crown if San Diego were to lose as well.
Calgary and Colorado are 1-1 against each other this season. The Roughnecks were without captain Curtis Dickson for both games, a 14-10 Colorado home win on February 5 and a 9-7 Calgary home win the following week on February 11.
“[Dickson] is a great player and one of the best goal-scorers in the league,” says Hope, who recorded one assist, 12 loose balls and three caused turnovers in the Mammoth’s Feb. 5 win. “He is a very difficult check for anyone.
“We have to make sure to play good team defence and put him in areas [where] we can support. He is going to get his shots. We have to make sure they are contested shots that [Colorado goalie] D-Ward can see.”
The Mammoth are coming off a bye last week, and a tight loss to Saskatchewan the prior week on April 16. Previous to that, Colorado was on a three-game win streak that included big victories over San Diego and Buffalo. At the same time, the Mammoth have also lost five straight road contests in a row heading into Saturday’s season finale in Calgary making home floor advantage even more important in the postseason.
“This time of year we have to have a playoff mentality,” Hope says. “Every mistake is amplified and we need to have laser-focus moving forward. We took this week to watch film, and rehab any bumps and bruises.
“We know what we have to do. We have to go out and execute our game plan. We need to put a full game together start to finish. It’s now time that we get back into our rhythm and play a full 60 minutes.”
The Roughnecks, meanwhile, took a tough loss at Rochester last week but previous to that were on a five-game win streak that catapulted them into a playoff spot.
“This is a very important game for us,” says Calgary transition player Zach Currier, who leads the NLL this season with 226 loose balls and 59 forced turnovers. “It is crucial to be heading into the playoffs with some momentum, not to mention we are playing an opponent that could potentially be our first-round matchup depending how things shake out.
“We are focusing on the things that helped put us on that five-game run, and trying to hit the reset button and get back to that spot this weekend.”
Both Calgary-Colorado games this season saw fast starts, topsy-turvy comebacks and strong finishes.
In the Feb. 5 game, the Roughnecks were leading 10-7 in the third quarter but the Mammoth stormed back with seven unanswered goals for the 14-7 win. Similarly, in the Feb. 11 game, Colorado held a 7-5 lead in the third quarter before Calgary scored the next four goals to secure the 9-7 win.
“We will be approaching the game trying to win each five-minute segment,” says Currier, who had two goals, 14 loose balls, five caused turnovers and one blocked shot in the Roughnecks’ Feb. 11 win. “It will be a big focus for us to put a full 60 minutes together this weekend.”
Currier and the reigning NLL champion Roughnecks are confident heading into the weekend with their Superman captain in the lineup.
“Curtis is the hardest one-on-one cover in the league and he demands so much attention from opposing teams that it allows him and the rest of our offence to find creative ways to get open and find good looks on the cage,” Currier says. “It’s great knowing we will have our captain in the lineup this time around.”
On a personal note, Currier is three caused turnovers from setting a new single-season NLL record currently held by Saskatchewan’s Kyle Rubisch (61 with Edmonton in 2014).
But lacrosse is a team game.
“Although individual accolades are a nice feather in the cap,” says Currier, “I think I speak for most of the players on my team and around the league that they don’t mean much if we aren’t lifting the NLL [championship] trophy at the end of the season.”