Playoff race heats up in NLL, beginning with clash
TORONTO – With only four weeks remaining in the National Lacrosse League regular season, tension is running high as 10 teams battle for just eight playoff spots.
Entering Week 13, the March 25 contest between the Toronto Rock and the Calgary Roughnecks is crucial for both teams; neither team is in a position to clinch a playoff berth yet and both teams will need a victory to help position themselves in the league standings.
With the exception of the 1-11 Edmonton Rush, every team in the NLL is .500 or better entering the weekend.
What this means for both Toronto and Calgary is more pressure in each remaining game; or as stated by Rock head coach and general manager Terry Sanderson, this just means that the Toronto Rock are “starting the playoffs four weeks early.”
“You’re talking about one of the premier clubs in the league, everybody knows about our rivalry,” Sanderson said. “You can’t afford to go in and have a dud of a game in any game left.”
Toronto’s offensive “Fab Four” of Colin Doyle, Blaine Manning, Josh Sanderson and Aaron Wilson are joined by captain Jim Veltman. His ability to lead teams to victory makes him a valuable asset to the team. All five players will be particularly important to the Rock’s success down the stretch.
The crucial games for Toronto start March 25 with the game presented by Woodbine and the Toronto Sun, in an afternoon showdown against Western rivals Calgary.
“They’re a good club,” Sanderson said. “I don’t think there’s any secrets out there between Calgary and Toronto. We’ll have to be at our best to come out with a victory.”
Fans should expect a lot from this rivalry, as the game promises to be full of adrenaline and hard-hitting action.
Meeting of past two NLL champs
The Rock won their fifth NLL championship last year and are poised to repeat once again.
But the Calgary Roughnecks, who won the National Lacrosse League Champion’s Cup Final in 2004 defeating the Buffalo Bandits 14-11, are hoping to win their second in franchise history.
Calgary boasts some good talent with experience from the 2004 Final, including Lewis Ratcliff, Kaleb Toth, Kyle Goundrey, Jesse Phillips, Tracey Kelusky, Grant Hamilton and Andrew McBride.
Ratcliff lead the Roughnecks in scoring in 2005 and continues to lead the way in 2006. Last year he finished thirteenth in league scoring, and he has jumped to sixth this season. Meanwhile Phillips is the Roughnecks all-time leader in penalty minutes.
He has earned a reputation as a notorious pest amongst Rock fans after fighting Veltman last year at a home game in Calgary.
Described by General Manager Kurt Silcott as “the heart and soul of this team,” Phillips provides the Roughnecks with a gritty defensive presence. He holds a type of symbolism similar to what Veltman brings to the Rock, making him a valuable asset to his squad.
Driscoll has way of stepping up in big games
Chris Driscoll of the Rock, who has contributed both as a forward and a defenseman this season, has the potential to standout during this significant home game.
Skilled at both ends of the floor, Driscoll has been known to step up in past must-win situations, including last year’s two playoff games.
“We will have to be at our best to come out with a victory,” Sanderson added.
Calgary head coach Chris Hall has similar thoughts, noting that Rock snipers “Manning, Doyle and Sanderson are top of the list of players to watch,” but that the Roughnecks will have to play a “playoff-calibre” game to compete.
Saturday April 1
Toronto @ Minnesota, 8 p.m.
XCEL Energy Centre
Fan 590, B2 Networks