May 24, 2014

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Rochester-Calgary Should Be a Nail-Biting NLL Finale

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Shawn Evans has never won in Rochester as a member of the Roughnecks since being traded from the Knighthawks, where he spent his first six seasons. (Brad Watson)

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The Rochester Knighthawks and the Calgary Roughnecks don't get together often but, when they do, sparks fly.

The home-and-home Champion's Cup showdown is the first-ever playoff meeting between these teams but we can get a strong hint at what is about to transpire by checking out recent regular-season tilts: they clashed once a year for the last two years, in Calgary both times, and each team posted a one-goal win. Goaltending was a key factor.

In the 2014 game, Calgary erased a 5-1 deficit and won 11-10 on Feb. 22 thanks to a five-goal run in the fourth quarter. Calgary's Mike Poulin made 39 saves, Rochester's Matt Vinc 32.

In the 2013 game, it was 13-13 with three minutes left when goals by Dan Dawson and Craig Point put Rochester ahead to stay in a 15-14 cliffhanger. Vinc made 44 saves and Poulin 33.

They met twice in 2012 and each team won at home. In Calgary, the Roughnecks led by four going into the fourth quarter and survived a Rochester rally to pull out a 15-14 win. Poulin made 47 saves, Vinc 36. In Rochester, a five-goal Rochester run in the second quarter erased a 5-2 deficit and the Knighthawks led 14-8 before coasting home 14-12. Vinc made 41 saves and current Calgary backup Frankie Scigliano made 38.

The teams did not meet in 2011.

On April 3, 2010, Calgary won 11-9 in Rochester. Shawn Evans was still playing for the Knighthawks and Poulin sat on the Calgary bench as backup to Matt King. The Roughnecks haven't won in Blue Cross Arena since that night.

Calgary traded Evans to Calgary during the 2011 entry draft for the No. 5 pick, which was used to select Johnny Powless. Evans had spent his first six NLL seasons with Rochester.

Tidbits out of that history: Poulin and Evans have not won in Rochester in Calgary uniforms; current Calgary players in uniform for the 2010 win in Rochester were Poulin, Jeff Shattler, Curtis Manning, Mike Carnegie, Dane Dobbie, Scott Ranger and Pete McFetridge, while current Rochester players who suited up for that game were Sid Smith, Craig Point, Mac Allen, Joe Walters and Joel McCready.

It's a whole new ballgame with many new faces now, of course, and a whole new setup with a two-game final replacing the previous single-game elimination. So, get set to see what transpires Saturday night in Calgary and the following Saturday night in Rochester.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

ROCHESTER was the No. 1 seed in the East after a 14-4 regular season, getting a bye through the first round of playoffs. The Knighthawks lost 12-8 in Buffalo but won 13-8 back home in the division final, forcing a minigame that required overtime. Cory Vitarelli's OT goal kept the Knighthawks' threepeat aspirations alive.

''It was intense and loud,'' Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen said during a league conference call Wednesday. ''It was entertaining, to say the least.''

Both teams had chances to win the minigame and ''it was nice to see (Vitarelli) get the big one to allow us to move forward.''

Now they face the Roughnecks.

''We're looking forward to getting out there and playing against these guys,'' said Hasen. '' We know that building is going to be loud, as it was when they hosted Edmonton, and they're playing well. They're going on all cylinders. Earlier in the season, they took it to us. We don't get to see them often but we have been watching them on film lately.

''We know it's going to be a tough battle right from the get-go. Their D is playing really well and Poulin is playing great. Every time they stick five guys on the floor we know they're going to have an opportunity to put it in the net so we've got to be at our best. We've got to be a lot better than we were against Buffalo.''

CALGARY was the No. 2 seed in the West after a 12-6 regular season. The Roughnecks edged visiting Colorado 16-15 on a Shawn Evans OT goal in the first round. They won the first game of the division final 12-11 at home against Edmonton on Jeff Shattler's OT goal. They lost 15-13 in Edmonton before taking the minigame 2-1 thanks to two Shawn Evans goals. Calgary had the quickest legs in the minigame after rallying from a 10-2 deficit in the full game.

''We taxed a few of their defenders who log a lot of minutes,'' head coach Curt Malawsky explained.

They hope to do the same against the 2013 and 2014 champs.

''They've got a great club,'' Malawsky said of the Knighthawks. ''We played them at home in February and we were able to get a couple of goals late to pull that one out. They were a whole different animal though when we played them back then.

''They're very physical, very big. If you settle for the outside (offensive) looks, you're going to be in for a long night. They've got a world-class goaltender in Matt Vinc and their offense is so dynamic with Cody (Jamieson) and Danny Dawson. As two-time champions, they've got experience on their side as well. So, it's going to be a big challenge for our guys.

''It's going to be the toughest game of the season but we wouldn't want it to be any other way than to be playing the champs. So, we're excited.''

INJURY UPDATES

Calgary faceoff specialist Geoff Snider has seen no game action since suffering a lower body injury May 3. He has never appeared in an NLL title game and is aching to get back onto the green carpet. He's been working hard with physiotherapists and trainers.

''His cardio is back to where it needs to be,'' says Malawsky. ''He's got a brace fitted so we're very optimistic.

''Geoff's going to do everything he can possibly do to get himself on the floor for the weekend. I thought we did an admirable job in the faceoffs up in Edmonton but it's always nice having that possession with Geoff on the floor so he's going to give it a go Friday night at practise and hopefully he'll be good enough to at least get some possessions off the draw Saturday night. We'll see how things progress as the week goes along.''

Rochester forward Dan Dawson left early in the second quarter of Game 2 of the East final after being struck on the chest by Buffalo defenseman Rory Smith's stick.

''By all accounts, he's doing well,'' says Hasen. ''He was feeling a lot better at the end of the game.

''Knowing Dan and the professional he is, I'm sure he's going to be ready for this weekend, and we don't expect anything but.''

DEFENSE VS. OFFENSE

Rochester has one of the league's top defenses, while Calgary has the No. 1 offense.

''We've got a lot of respect for those guys top to bottom,'' says Calgary captain Andrew McBride. ''Any time a team can climb the ladder of your league two years in a row it shows as a franchise and an organization how good they are. We're really excited for the challenge. To be able to play the best team the least two years, it's going to be exciting for us.''

Jamieson says he and his teammates have not talked about being the defending champions.

''We haven't really spoken of last year or the year before at all,'' he said. 'This is a totally new group, a totally new team, and our goal is the same as it was at the start of the year. But we're really excited to be back and excited to get this thing going. We know we're up for one heck of a battle and we're looking forward to it.''

Will it be a shootout?

''I hope not,'' said Jamieson. ''We've had confidence in our D all year and it's been our backbone starting from Vino and carrying on out. We expect low-scoring games _ hopefully.''

POWER PLAYS

In Calgary's 11-10 win in the lone 2014 meeting, Calgary was 3-for-3 and Rochester was 0-for-1 on power plays, and that was a huge difference. The Knighthawks won't be able to afford to allow such an imbalance the next two Saturdays.

HOME ADVANTAGE

McBride: ''We're really excited to get started at home. It's going to be an electric atmosphere. Hopefully, we can key off that and really jump off to a good start.''


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