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Stories/Op-Ed

West Division Semifinal: Roughnecks At Mammoth

Common enemies meet yet again on the turf, this time with the stakes raised a mile high as the Colorado Mammoth (9-9) host the Calgary Roughnecks at Pepsi Center for the single-elimination West Division Semifinal on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch live on WatchESPN in the United States and on TSN1 & TSN GO in Canada. The game also airs live on MSG+, NESNplus, MASN2, Time Warner Cable Sports Network NY, Altitude (U.S.) & ASN (Asia).

As the top-seeded Edmonton Rush await the winner of this game for the West Division Finals, sounding like a broken record is an understatement at this point when talking about Calgary and Colorado. Both teams win in regulation, in close battles, in blowouts, in overtimes. Along the way it’s been a blender of respect, hatred and bittersweet outcomes.

Including regular season and playoffs, seven of the last 11 meetings between the two clubs have gone to overtime, with Colorado winning the last two in the regular season that have gone to an extra frame.

Now meeting for the fifth time in the postseason since 2009, fans just need to sit back and get their popcorn ready.

To both the Mammoth coaching trio of Dan Stroup, Pat Coyle and Chris Gill, as well as Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky, it’s a clean slate when regarding the past.

“It’s nice to be playing at home, hopefully it will energize the boys,” said Mammoth coach Dan Stroup. “But I think the record speaks for itself with playing Calgary. I mean there’s been so many overtimes…if that pushes us over the edge, that’s great, but both teams are going to be ready to go.”

Calgary is not the only nemesis awaiting the Mammoth on Saturday night, as history has been an equally-nagging adversary. Despite being on the winning end two times out of three in the regular season this year against the Riggers, Colorado’s rival has beaten them when it counts the most- in the playoffs- time and time again.

The Mammoth have been one-and-done in their seven post-championship season playoff matchups. There have been close, and some not-so-close losses, but in those seven postseason appearances, Calgary has won five of them (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014).  

That’s quite a monkey on the burgundy club’s back.

Mammoth defenseman Dan Coates though commented earlier this week, echoing much of what Stroup and Malawsky said. When asked if the locker room is using past postseason matchups versus Calgary as an extra spark among the roster, he was quick to answer.

“Not really one bit,” he said. “You can’t look at the past. You can look at the record; yes Calgary has had our number, we can only look forward. We’re expecting a great game, we’re confident within our locker room and it feels like a family.”

That family consists of a good mix of experienced postseason veterans as well as young talent that haven’t felt the extra pull of the road to the Champions Cup. Compared to Calgary’s well-experienced roster, it’s no worry to Stroup and company, and it further adds to the notion of another classic matchup with their rival north of the border.

“They’re gamers, that’s why they’re on the team,” said Stroup about the team’s young contributors. “They’ve proven themselves…all of the coaching staff has confidence in every player on that team. They’re going to bring some energy, but I think in the end…it’s probably going to come down to one goal.”

In the 2015 regular season matchups, the home team won in all three games. In those outings, Colorado’s offense has been highlighted by Adam Jones and John Grant, Jr., who remain the top two in points among the team. Jones has combined for 15 points (9+6) and Grant with 13 (9+4) in those three games versus the Rouchnecks, and have faced both Mike Poulin and Frankie Scigliano in net.

In the last two games, Jones put up 12 points (9+3) versus the Rush as Colorado wrapped up the regular season, while Grant has been blanked on the scoresheet, and marked five assists. Drew Westervelt stepped back into the scoring light last game with a hat trick, combining for four goals in his last five games.

Bob Snider meanwhile has been absent from the Mammoth bench as of late where he last suited up on April 11, and is unknown if that trend will continue, or if we will see him in the faceoff circle against his brother.

“It’s up in the air,” Stroup admitted about Snider’s potential insertion into the lineup. “He’s a great player and nothing has been decided yet. That’s the tough part about coaching is that we’ve got 20-plus players that can make our lineup and they all bring something different. That will be a decision later in the week, possibly right up to game time.”

That goes without saying any roster move is in play for the Mammoth, even who is between the pipes, as netminding has been the most concerning aspect among Mammoth fans as of late.

Dillon Ward wrapped up the regular season tying his rookie year mark of seven wins after being named the starting goaltender over then-teammate Tye Belanger. He tied that feat this season as the expected starter all year, but in the last two games has been relieved by Alex Buque just over halfway through the game in terms of game time, and in total has been pulled three out of the last four outings.

After a slow 0-6 start to the 2015 NLL season, the Roughnecks managed to clinch the third and final playoff berth in the West by defeating the Vancouver Stealth in a winner-take-all game by a score of 14-13 last weekend. The Riggers fought hard to obtain a playoff spot. In the end, it was character that aided them when it came down to the last game of the regular season.

“Over the last few years we’ve been a very resilient bunch, to start out the season the way we did and to be able to battle through the adversity,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “To be able come down to one game at the end of the season, and the way it went for our start. We struggled a little bit in the beginning, and then we put it on, and then come fourth quarter we struggled a little bit more. But at the end of the day, our character shined through, and we were able to get the results.”

After the worst start to the season the organization has ever seen, the ‘Necks have learned many lessons. What they need to do now is carry that experience into the playoffs. The team is feeling confident about Saturday’s game, but not just because they defeated the Stealth in the playoff-like regular season finale.

“I think if we’re riding any high, it’s a high that we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as men, as teammates, and as professionals,” said Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider. “A massive amount of adversity this year, more than I think this organization has ever seen. Any team that I’ve ever been on has been a process. I think we’re excited that we’ve really had to earn things, I think that’s been our sort of mantra the entire season; is that respect is earned. We certainly had to do that this year, and an 0-6 start I think we were counted out a lot of the time here. We were scrappy and resilient and we’ve really come together as a group, and we’re just hoping to carry that forward into a very tough building to play, into a very talented well-coached team.”

The Roughnecks have had seven of its last 10 regular season games go to overtime, 8 of 12 games if you include the playoffs. In the 2014 NLL season, the Roughnecks managed to defeat Colorado in the Division Semifinal via Shawn Evan’s OT winner. However, not worrying about the past is the team’s motto this season. They are keeping their attention to playing this weekend against a team they consider their equal.

“The record in overtime means nothing,” Malawsky admitted. “I expect the game to be a one-goal game…We expect a real tough battle. They’re very-evenly matched teams. They’ve got a great coaching staff, and they’re going be very well prepared so it’s going to be a tall order for us going down there. But we’ve been down this road before, this is a battle-tested group and we’re excited to get going this weekend.”

The Mammoth and Roughnecks both have strong teams and organizations. The locker room is feeling prepared and looking forward to taking on this weekend’s challenge.

“Between Calgary and Colorado, you feel like a pro playing in both places,” Snider said. “They do it right there, the sport certainly is growing in Colorado strictly because of the Mammoth, and we’re excited to go in. They play us tight, we play them tight. It’s going to be a great showing for the sport.”

By Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) and Laura Bates (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Brad Watson.

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