After earning a split in the last weekend’s doubleheader, the Toronto Rock (3-1) will look to get back in the win column when they host what will be an equally as determined Calgary Roughnecks (0-3) team at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. Watch live on TSN2 & TSN GO (Canada) and WatchESPN (U.S.) starting at 7 p.m. ET.
With a couple straight divisional games in their rearview mirror, the Rock will get another taste of the West Division in Calgary, a team still trying to find their footing this season. The Roughnecks, regarded as Toronto’s cross-divisional rival, will arrive at the ACC carrying their worst-ever start to an NLL season. Since joning the league in 2002, Calgary has never started a year without a win through four weeks of play.
“I still believe Calgary is still one of the best teams,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I know they’re not off to the best of starts, but I’ve watched their games and sometimes they look like a dominating team. Other times, it looks like they have some problems.”
Not to be fooled by the winless record, the Rock will continue their clear efforts to hunker down on mistakes in the defensive end. With the likes of Shawn Evans, Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie – each of whom have 13 points or more thus far – Calgary has found no trouble finding the back of the net despite their early stumbles. Over their first two games, the Roughnecks tallied a combined 30 goals.
“They’re well-coached and got some of the best offensive players in the league and they’re always sound defensively,” Lovell said. “Even though they’re 0-3, we always worry about that wounded animal coming into your building, they need a win badly.”
Less than a week ago, Toronto was faced with another desperate team in the Rochester Knighthawks. The Knighthawks, also winless at the time, played a lockdown defensive game, holding one of the league’s top scoring teams to just six goals (two at halftime) through the entire match. Despite the 8-6 loss, the Rock came up with one of their best defensive efforts in recent memory.
“Against Rochester, I thought we played a great defensive game, got strong goaltending. I liked our overall effort,” said Lovell.
Both Toronto goalies saw action in Week 4 and played nicely. Nick Rose was called upon for the first time this season on Friday against the Buffalo Bandits. His efforts earned him a 13-11 victory, his first since April 18, 2014 against the Minnesota Swarm. Starter Brandon Miller followed up with an even more impressive effort, only allowing eight goals against Rochester the next evening.
“It was great, I was really happy for Nick Rose,” said Lovell. “He played his first game of the season and played really well. And follow that with Brandon Miller’s performance on Saturday. It was his best game of the season by far.”
For Calgary, Roughnecks general manager Mike Board said the team needs improvements in several aspects of the game.
“Obviously, 0-3 is not where we wanted to start things out,” Board said. “I think we got what we deserved, I don’t think we’ve been as good as we can be and we got some things to tidy up before we go in for a tough game against Toronto this weekend.”
Roughnecks point leader Shawn Evans (9+13) says this is the type of seasoned team that can battle through adversity.
“I know 0-3 is not the start we wanted, none of us knew we would be in this position,” Evans stated. “But we are a veteran group, and I think we’re going to respond quite well.”
The ‘Necks have been outscored 51-38 through the first three games, which raises the question; what’s going on with the defense?
“We just got to tighten some things up on the backend,” Board explained. “I think we’ve shown stretches where we’ve been very good… I think we have some lapses and we’re not playing that full 60-minutes, so it’s attention to the little details and execution.”
“Going into Toronto, you look at that team,” added Board. “It’s a balanced attack, they got good goaltending and strong defense, it sounds cliché but we need attention to detail and a full 60-minute effort from our guys.”
The Roughnecks have nine players on its roster that will be travelling back to their home province of Ontario to play in front of their family.
“It’s always good going into Toronto to play,” Board said. “We’ve got a lot of players from around that area so they get to see some of their family.”
Evans grew up in Peterborough, Ontario and says he’s going to get his visits done early so he is not distracted going into the game.
“I don’t want to get distracted on this game,” Evans said. “I’m going to do everything under my power to get everything done early and be ready and focused for this upcoming game against Toronto.”
Calgary split the season series last year one game apiece but have an all-time record of 10-17 against the Rock and have only won four times at the ACC.
“I know this is a huge game for us, no game in this league is easy.” Evans said. “Going into Toronto who is 3-1 is going to be a tough game, so we gotta be ready to leave everything on the line and get our first win.”
Only four teams since 2006 have started its season 0-4, but Board says no one is panicking just yet.
“We’re not going to push the panic button anytime soon,” Board declared. “We got a lot of faith in our group and we want to move forward with them.”
“This is one of those ones you mark on your calendar, it’s the Toronto weekend and we’re looking forward to it very much.”
Story by Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) & Kassidy Collins (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.