On Saturday, the Western Division leading Calgary Roughnecks will host the Edmonton Rush in the final regular season meeting between the two squads at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
The Roughnecks (7-3) have won their last three contests, including five of their last six while also capturing the season series against Edmonton, beating the Rush three times this year. However, two of the Roughnecks wins over the Rush came by just one goal, including the Jan. 29 meeting, which was decided in overtime.
Calgary head coach Dave Pym is expecting another close game this time around.
“It is always a hell of a battle against that team just given the Battle of Alberta connotations,” Pym said of this week’s game versus Edmonton. “Really everything is out the window when you get to these games," Pym continued.
If there were any doubters that the Roughnecks weren’t the best team in the West, they proved them wrong last weekend, defeating the Washington Stealth 17-13 on the road in Everett, Wash. The Stealth had outscored their opponents 38-17 in their previous two games.
Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan said this weekend’s matchup against Calgary isn’t going to be easy, especially with the Riggers riding the momentum from the past couple of weeks.
“It is going to be tough,” Keenan said of the Roughnecks. “They are playing extremely well. Hats off to them, they’ve done a great job in all areas. Watching the Washington game, they pretty much matched everything that Washington threw at them. So we are going to have to have our very best." Keenan added, "We’ve played well against Calgary this year; we just haven’t gotten the results.”
The Rush will have a bunch of new faces on their roster when they hit the floor against their Alberta rival, as they made the most moves before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
The biggest move for Edmonton was sending forward Gavin Prout back to the Colorado Mammoth, a team he spent six seasons with previously, in exchange for forward Mike McLellan and a first round draft pick in 2011. McLellan is going to be more of an off-ball player for the Rush and a guy that will be able to score from the inside.
“It met the criteria going into the trade deadline, that being if we could make a move that wouldn’t damage our chance to win this year and make us better in the near future,” Keenan said of the trade for McLellan. “We got a guy who is averaging 27 goals per season in his career and a very good inside finisher, which we needed.”
On Wednesday, Keenan also said that the team is not bailing on the season by trading Prout, as they didn’t think that they would be able to resign the unrestricted free agent to-be.
Earlier this week, Edmonton made four roster moves. Signing free agent Rob Blasdell and picking up Kyle Sweeney off of waivers from the Philadelphia Wings. In the process, they also released defenseman Bruce Murray and goaltender Brandon Atherton.
After all the roster adjustments were finished, Keenan said he thought his team became more athletic.
“With the exception of Rob Blasdell, who is a 40-year-old veteran goalie, we have definitely gotten younger and more athletic,” Keenan said. “If you look at all of our moves that we’ve made right back to bringing in Tyler Codron and now Kyle Sweeney and Zack Greer, we are a more athletic and faster team.”
The Rush will hope that these moves pay off as they are battling Colorado for the final playoff spot in the West.
Even though Edmonton has a 2-8 record, they would be in the fourth and final playoff spot in the division if the season ended today. However, the Rush only sit one-half game ahead of the Mammoth, a team they’ll face three times down the home stretch of the season.
Saturday’s game between the Rush and Roughnecks will begin at 9:30 p.m. EDT from Calgary, Alberta. The game will be broadcast live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.
Next week, all 10 NLL teams will be back in action. Six games will be played over the weekend.
One other trade was made at the trade deadline. The Stealth acquired forward Cliff Smith from the Mammoth in exchange for Joel Dalgarno, Ian Hawksbee and a 2011 third round pick.
Washington head coach Chris Hall said he thinks Smith will fit in nicely into Stealth's offense.
“Cliff is a big, strong guy and brings a tremendous amount of grit and skill,” Hall said in a news release. “We’ve been watching him for a long time. Through juniors, his time with the New Westminster Salmonbellies and his pro career, and he has huge upside. We think the fit will be right for him in Washington.”
For Colorado, the additions of Dalgarno and Hawksbee should help the Mammoth transition game in picking up more loose balls and getting more fast break opportunities.