TORONTO – It’s not a secret, but there’s no love lost between the 2004 NLL Champion Calgary Roughnecks and the five-time and defending NLL champions, the Toronto Rock. Animosity would almost be an understatement.
When the two squads meet for one of two games this Sunday Feb. 5 at 3:30 p.m. (EST) at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, they’ll be primarily focused on getting two points with a win.
But redemption may be in the back of some players’ minds, and all three of the Rock’s ranked Fight Club players will make the flight to Calgary – Tim O’Brien, J.J. Dickie and Patrick Merrill.
There was some bad blood left on the floor after the team’s final meeting in April, 2005, with a line brawl resulting in ejection of Rock goalie Bob Watson and even a fight featuring Rock veteran captain Jim Veltman who bloodied Roughnecks’ pest Jesse Phillips. Veltman stood up for his rookie teammate after Calgary’s Kyle Goundrey hit Jimmy Quinlan from behind. Earlier in that game, O’Brien, the reigning Fight Club champion, challenged and defeated Calgary tough guy Jeff Moleski.
This is anticipated to draw a large television audience with the game airing on Rogers Sportsnet East, Ontario and West live (3:30 p.m. Eastern time) and joined in progress on the Fan 590.
“I know there’s not a lot of love lost between the two teams,” admits Rock head coach and general manager, Terry Sanderson. “You know everyone talks a good story about (what Sunday’s game will be like), but first and foremost in our mind, we’re looking to get points.”
“But let’s not kid each other, there’s no love lost between the teams. Sometimes boys are going to be boys.”
Toronto (1-4) lost the last meeting between the teams in April 2005, a fight-filled affair in which the Rock set a franchise-high for penalty minutes in a game (66 PIM), half (60 PIM) and quarter (56 PIM). Surprisingly, Watson set a franchise individual high for most PIM in a game with 27 PIM alone in that one third-quarter skirmish.
Aside from the highly anticipated physical affair, the game will be closely contested on paper too.
“It’s always tough to play Toronto,” said Roughnecks bench boss Chris Hall. “Everyone’s in the same mindset… Toronto is the reigning champion here. And the bad news about being the reigning champion is that you get a horrendous schedule. Toronto’s opponents have been very difficult to date. I don’t think Toronto’s record indicates the strength of the team.”
Hall, who won a championship as head coach with the Roughnecks in 2004, knows the importance of this game in catching first-place Arizona in the West Division standings, especially after a heartbreaking loss against the Sting last weekend.
“It’s another great rivalry with the east and west Canadian teams. We are prepared and we will be preparing for playing a team we think is the cream of the crop of the league,” said Roughnecks bench boss Chris Hall. “I don’t really pay much attention to the record when I understand the strength of the schedule they’ve been facing.”
Toronto Rock forward and reigning league scoring champion and MVP Colin Doyle is again on top of the league in points with 34 points (12G, 22A) entering the game. Josh Sanderson is close behind with 32 points (10G, 22A).
Calgary is lead by perennial all-star favourite Tracey Kelusky, emerging left-handed threat Lewis Ratcliff and young defensive stars Taylor and Devan Wray.
“It doesn’t get any easier facing (Calgary), but that’s where the schedule has us going this weekend,” Sanderson said. “Hopefully, we’ll play better than we did Friday (Jan. 27). We won that game, but we’re still not playing at the point where we should be, and hopefully we can get better again this weekend.”
NOTES: Former Roughneck and Rock defender Brad MacDonald is also expected to make the trip to Calgary. He sat out last game while still nursing a hand injury. This is MacDonald’s first season with the Rock. The Orangeville native said he is excited about the prospect of returning to play against his former team… After losing 14-8 to the Rock last Friday Jan. 27, the Edmonton Rush held a closed-door, players-only meeting to address the club’s 0-4 record. They are the only squad without a win in the NLL… Jim Veltman will scavenge for his 2,000th career loose ball this Sunday against Calgary; he enters the game with 1,998 in his 14th season of play. He currently leads the league in loose balls with 72 scooped entering this game. He will be the first player in league history to reach this mark, a feat that will be very difficult to equal.