The Calgary Roughnecks are a win away from playing host to the National Lacrosse League championship.
Having started the playoffs by eliminating the Colorado Mammoth last weekend, the Roughnecks play the visiting San Jose Stealth in the West Division final Saturday.
A victory will give the top-seeded Roughnecks a chance to win the league title on their home floor a week later.
Calgary won the NLL title in 2004 when Chris Hall was head coach and Hall, now coaching the Stealth, relishes the opportunity to return to the Pengrowth Saddledome.
“My time in Calgary was great, I really enjoyed it,” says Hall. “The people there and the fans were great and the organization treated me well and we were able to win a championship.
“I know nobody will be cheering for us . . . but it’ll be a great atmosphere to play in. The energy in the building will be tremendous and I look forward to it.”
The game will feature two of the NLL’s premier playmakers — Josh Sanderson of the Roughnecks and Colin Doyle of the Stealth, who won the scoring title this season. Both are considered strong candidates for the MVP award.
Two of the best young players in the sport also will be on the floor — second-year attacker Dane Dobbie of the Roughnecks and rookie Rhys Duch of the Stealth, who’ll likely be named top NLL newcomer.
The goaltending matchup has Calgary’s Matt King at one end and rookie Tyler Richards at the other end.
“We’ve got to be extremely good fundamentally and minimize our mistakes,” assistant Roughnecks coach Dave Pym said during an NLL conference call. “San Jose has a high-powered offence so our defence is going to have to play its best game of the year.
“Offensively, we’re going to have to work very hard to get chances against a goalie who’s been hot down the stretch.”
King was Calgary’s backup goalie during the 2004 title run.
“I’m thrilled that Matt has developed into the goaltender he’s become,” says Hall.
Duch, Richards, Paul Rabil and the other San Jose rookies won’t wilt under the pressure of what is at hand, says Hall. They performed well in San Jose’s big win over the Portland Lumberjax last weekend.
“Rabil has played in front of 40,000 people in the NCAA . . . they’ll call on those past experiences and should be just fine,” says Hall.
If San Jose is to pull off an upset, look for Doyle to be at the centre of it all. The way he’s playing, anything is possible for the Stealth, so Calgary head coach Troy Cordingley will make sure his D men are all over Doyle.
“We’re going to play a high-pressure defence,” says Pym. “Colin Doyle is the key to their offence.
“He’s been a superstar in this league for a number of years and he’ll lift his game to a higher level and pull his teammates along with him.”
A strong Calgary defence corps will be ready.
The last Canadian team to the win the NLL title was Toronto in 2005.
The East Division final, also Saturday, will see the Buffalo Bandits play the New York Titans at the Prudential Centre in Newark, N.J. Buffalo beat New York in the 2008 divisional final before winning the Champion’s Cup.
Buffalo got past Boston in the division semifinal last weekend, while New York advanced with a win over Rochester on an overtime goal by Casey Powell. If the Bandits can stop Powell, they’ll win, but that is easier said than done.