Friday, May 15, 2009

The Last Team Standing

There is probably some irony in the fact that, historically, Canada’s national game has been lacrosse. So how fitting is it that the last professional sports team to play is a National Lacrosse League team: the Calgary Roughnecks. And play they did – all the way to winning the Champion’s Cup.

However, regarding its opponent, it says a lot about a team’s character when it had to play in three different home buildings this season and rumors abound about its demise following this Champions Cup. That the New York Titans have even made it this far shows how strong that team’s bond is. It also held the defending champion Buffalo Bandits to just three goals in the Eastern Final.

The Roughnecks came into this game having set the record for the longest shutout streak in the playoffs (holding the San Jose Stealth scoreless until 24 seconds into the fourth quarter of the Western Final) and recording the first game-winning goal by a netminder (Matt King threw the ball into the opposing net at 14:59 in the first quarter of the same game).

It’s the Titan’s first trip, but the Roughnecks have been here before. Getting to the final takes more than just winning. Riggers’ T Devan Wray tries to explain.

“I don’t know if I can really put a finger on it. There are a lot of the same faces we had last year. It’s a matter of everyone getting more familiar with each other, buying in and really starting to believe in what we’ve got going on in the locker room. We’ve been healthy all season long. We’re continuing to strengthen the relationships between teammates.”

Meanwhile, the Titans have its best player back in its lineup after injury in Casey Powell.

Coach Troy Cordingley was named NLL Coach of the Year and while Wray says he is very intense and his will to win is strong, the entire coaching staff also shared the same cohesiveness as the players. Much could be said on the other bench.

Even though the Necks defeated the Titans 12-10 in February, regular season gets thrown out with the bathwater when it comes to playoffs. D Andrew McBride adds, “They didn’t have their best player (Powell) in the lineup.”

On the floor, F Tracey Kelusky opened the play with a shot stopped by G Matt Vinc. Play was halted to fix the game clock wasn’t working, then the Titans opened the scoring with a power play goal by Pat Maddalena with Mike Carnegie in the box for illegal cross checking at 1:31.

Tracey Kelusky evened up the game on a two-man power play advantage at 4:26.

The Roughnecks dominated loose balls, while Titan defense kept a hold on the shooting lanes in front of Vinc. It was a tough battle throughout the entire game. Calgary mostly held a slight lead or the game was tied. It was good entertainment for the 13,042 in attendance.

The Titans never let up. Vinc played solid in goal facing 50 shots, while Riggers’ G Matt King faced 42. The final score: 12-10.

It’s a satisfying victory when you can do it in front of a home crowd. It’s something the team, even those that were here before in 2004, will savor.

D Andrew McBride: “Opportunities don’t transpire that often to be back. A lot of guys have played many years and have not won a championship. We didn’t celebrate the Western Conference championship too much. We’ve had one goal in mind all year. It’s to be a champion.”

D Bruce Cobb: “In a short season, if you have a lot of injuries, it can be tough to recover. We haven’t had maybe four, five man games lost to injury. That helps with chemistry, too.”

Devan Wray: “It’s not about individuals. Without everybody working together, it just doesn’t happen. It’s as important for me to win it for the rest of the locker room as it is for me.”

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

NLL final to rock the house in Calgary

Sacrifice, honor, glory – these are the traits that cover the theme of the naval exhibit of Calgary’s Military Museum, where the Calgary Roughnecks held its pre-game press conference on Friday. The venue couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s the message the team wanted to take to the Western Division final, and ultimately the National Lacrosse League final.

It’s difficult to put a finger on what it takes to get that far, but there are six on the floor who knew what it felt like to win the final exactly five years ago in 2004. That’s when the Roughnecks beat Buffalo for the Champions Cup. Five still wear the uniform: Devan Wray, Kaleb Toth, Tracey Kelusky, Andrew McBride, and Kyle Goundry. The sixth was the man who stood behind them: Coach Chris Hall. However, this time, Hall is positioned behind the San Jose bench.

The man motivating the Necks this year was also name the NLL Head Coach of the Year – Troy Cordingley. He guided the team to a 12-4 record and in just his second season, has earned a trip to the final. Ironically, Cordingley was also behind the Buffalo Bandits’ bench when his team lost the 2004 final to the Roughnecks.

The Western Final was some kind of game. In the first half alone, five goals by Tracey Kelusky and one by Matt King – the goalie, who also had an assist. The Necks outshot the Stealth 31-20 at the half and continued to roll over its opponent throughout the second half.

By the end of the third quarter, it was 15-0 for the Roughnecks, which outshot the Stealth by this point: 45-29. You could feel it in the building – Cup fever.

However, some of the bubble burst when King’s shutout was taken away in the first few seconds of the 4th when the Stealth came fast off the faceoff and scored two quick goals. But the Roughnecks held them back to only four goals and a
17-5 final. Final shots: 53-47 Calgary.

The ultimate goal was finally realized: the NLL Champions Cup will be held at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Friday, May 15 at 7:00 PM. The Roughnecks will play Casey Powell and the New York Titans – who defeated the Buffalo Bandits 9-3 to clinch the Eastern Division title. Hopefully, there will be more than the 9,639 that were in attendance for the Western Final.