The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Last-gasp weekend looms for the Toronto Rock and the Edmonton Rush
With only two weekends left on the schedule, it's make or break time for the National Lacrosse League's 12 teams.
The Calgary Roughnecks, 10-3 atop the West Division, can earn home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs with wins at home against Portland, 7-6, on Friday and in Edmonton against the last-place Rush, 5-9, on Saturday.
"Portland knocked us out of the playoffs last year so if that isn't enough motivation I don't know what is," says assistant Roughnecks coach Dave Pym.
Calgary is coming off an uplifting 12-9 home win over Rochester during which captain Tracey Kelusky led a charge from a 7-1 deficit by scoring four goals.
"We have tremendous leadership from guys who have been around this league for a while,"' says Pym.
Edmonton was blown out 22-10 at home March 13 by Calgary so it would be a stunning upset if the tables were turned.
"Calgary has proved it's the best in the west so it's going to be a big challenge for us but we're encouraged about the way we've played the last three weeks," says Rush GM-coach Bob Hamley. "They guys have really worked their tails off. They're motivated. They realize they still have a chance."
Toronto, 5-9 and last in the East Division, will be in Philadelphia against the Wings, 6-8, on Saturday. The Rock could be eliminated from contention before they pull on the pads if Rochester wins its game in Buffalo on Friday.
"We need somebody else's help to get into the playoffs," says Rock coach Jamie Batley. "We don't control our own destiny but we still have to put on a good performance."
A strong defensive effort is a must.
"That's the most important thing we need to do," says Batley. "Our defence has been great sometimes this year and it's been downright terrible sometimes, too.
"We're in a situation where, if we don't play great defence, we're going to be in trouble right away."
The Buffalo Bandits, 9-4, will try to sew up first place in the East with their games against Rochester, 6-7, on Friday and at New York, 8-6, on Saturday.
Buffalo star John Tavares was named overall player of the week by the NLL on Wednesday for scoring six goals and assisting on three in a 15-11 win at Boston last Saturday.
Bandits coach Darris Kilgour is well aware of the ramifications of results this weekend given that New York and Boston are only one win behind his team.
"We could end up right in the middle of the pack if other teams go on a run and things work out well for them," says Kilgour. "We want to go into the playoffs playing the best lacrosse we can."
Buffalo-Rochester games are always intense.
"I'm expecting a real war Friday night," says Kilgour.
A demanding weekend for Rochester winds up in Boston against the Blazers, 8-6, on Saturday. Gary Gait returns to the Knighthawks lineup after being absent last weekend due to Syracuse University coaching commitments.
"We hold our destiny in our own hands," says coach Paul Gait. "Ultimately, I think it's going to come down to the game on the 18th in Rochester against Philly."
Portland travels from Calgary to Minnesota for a showdown with the Swarm, 6-8, on Saturday. Lumberjax goalie Matt Disher has been sidelined by a lower body injury and is nearly ready to put the helmet back on.
"He's getting better but we're not sure yet about either game," GM-coach Derek Keenan replied when asked if Disher will reappear for the two weekend games. "We probably won't know until Friday but he'll be on the trip."
Portland's Brodie Merrill is transition player of the week.
Minnesota plays its last two games at home where attendance has been averaging more than 12,000, which puts the franchise in the top-five at the turnstiles.
"We've been getting really good crowds and hopefully they can energize us," says coach Duane Jacobs. "I'd rather be playing at home these last two games than on the road, that's for sure."
San Jose and Colorado also are 6-8 in the West and square off in Denver on Saturday. The teams split two previous meetings so the winner of this won would own the tiebreaker should they finish the season with identical records.
Single-season records are about to fall.
San Jose captain Colin Doyle is four shy and Boston captain Dan Dawson is five back of the assists record held by Calgary's Josh Sanderson, who amassed 71 in helping Toronto win the championship in 2005.
Doyle has a league-best 99 points and, averaging seven points a game, has a shot at the points record of 115 by Tavares in 2001.
Doyle gets the nod as offensive player of the week for scoring three goals and assisting on 10 in an 18-8 win over Minnesota last Friday.
"When we need an important goal, he seems to be the guy who'll go get it for us whether by scoring it himself or setting it up," says coach Chris Hall. "He's an incredibly unselfish player and really strives to make the whole team better.
"He's one of the finest lacrosse players I've had the opportunity to coach."
San Jose's Rhys Duch needs four points to tie the rookie record of 82 by Colorado captain Gavin Prout in 2002.
Stealth netminder Tyler Richards was named defensive player of the week for his 46 saves in the win over the Swarm. Duch had five goals and three assists in the same game and continues to lead all NLL rookies in scoring with 78 points.
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