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RIVALS SET TO CLASH IN WEST DIVISION SEMIFINAL

A Colorado Mammoth-Calgary Roughnecks game is the epitome of a true sports rivalry. In 29 regular-season match-ups, the Mammoth owns a 15-14 edge. In the playoffs, the Roughnecks have been dominant, winning three straight (’08, ’09, ’11) and four of five overall.

Last Saturday’s regular-season finales were the culmination of months of hard work for both teams. Calgary’s overtime win in Edmonton earned the Roughnecks the number-one seed in the West Division. Colorado, in need of a victory to secure a playoff berth, beat Minnesota, 16-14, behind a five-goal, three-assist night from Adam Jones. Their victories resulted in a renewal of one of the best rivalries in the National Lacrosse League, as the Mammoth takes on the Roughnecks this Saturday at 7pm MT at Scotiabank Saddledome in the West Division Semifinal.

Calgary’s game in Week 16 was about jockeying for playoff position.

“We have a good start to this playoff push,” said Calgary defenseman Greg Harnett. “Not a whole lot will change. What got us here will get us further and it is really going to come down to who wants it more and who will do the little things to win.”

Colorado’s was about making the postseason.

“We are very happy with the way we responded to what we thought was not a very good performance at home versus Minnesota (the week before),” said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. “To add to that, the magnitude of the game, we are very pleased to be in the playoffs and ready to go.”

“Coming into Minnesota, we knew we really needed the win and wanted the win,” said Mammoth transition player Cam Holding. “We were well-focused and prepared and we executed. Against Calgary, we are going to try and keep the same mentality.”

On the surface, the higher seed, with a better regular-season record and home-field advantage, would have exactly that – an advantage. But the numbers say otherwise. Since playoff expansion eight years ago that increased the number of teams per division from three to four that qualified for the postseason, the West’s number-four seed has ‘upset’ the top seed five out of eight times.

“With the parity of the league you can throw out [seeds]; being the number-one seed or number-four seed doesn’t matter,” said Colorado goaltender Tye Belanger. “In the West, in the East, you don’t know who’s going to win. It’s a toss-up. It’s single-game elimination and right now it’s who shows up and plays the best.”

Since winning the Champion’s Cup in 2006, Colorado has been unable to advance out of the first round. This time, the Mammoth will lean on Belanger and forward John Grant Jr. The 22-year-old netminder’s playoff resume boasts less than three minutes of playing time. Grant, conversely, has the equivalent of a full season’s worth of postseason experience. In 16 playoff games, Grant has recorded 55 goals scored and 93 total points.

The 2012 NLL MVP can score all he wants. But if the defense and goaltending aren’t strong, the chances of Colorado advancing will be greatly diminished. That’s where Hamley’s supreme faith in his goalie factors in.

“[Belanger is] a kid that is really unflappable. One goal goes in and he forgets about it and tries to learn from it. He’s a student of the game and understands that at this level you need to do your homework. You can’t just go in expecting to make stops without being prepared. Confidence is a big thing and Tye [has] a lot of it right now.”

Beating the Roughnecks is never easy. Calgary featured the league’s top offense and power-play in the regular season. They’re led by forward Shawn Evans, whose 80 assists and 112 points paced the NLL. He exploded for 30 points in three games against Colorado this season, including two outings with double-digit point-totals.

“We need to try and limit [Evans’] opportunities,” said Hamley. “He’s really turned into a playmaker on Calgary’s offense.”

The game will be broadcast live on The Lacrosse Network and will air on tape-delay on Altitude Sports on Sunday, April 28 at 11pm MT. The winner will advance to the West Division Final to take on the winner of the Washington-Edmonton game.

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