Roughnecks look to 'take it to Saskatchewan in their own house' to keep up playoff push

Wowzer home win to start weekend double-dip with Rush drives Riggers into seventh spot

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Turns out eight is enough for the Calgary Roughnecks.

But nine?

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That would really do the trick in the push for the National Lacrosse League playoffs.

A ninth-straight head-to-head victory with the Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday night in Saskatoon, following hard on the heels of Friday evening’s 12-10 win over their rivals at Scotiabank Saddledome to start the home-and-home weekend series, would further solidify the Roughnecks in the chase for a coveted NLL post-season spot.

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“It starts with the first five minutes, right?” said Roughnecks superstar Christian Del Bianco, looking ahead to the rematch with the host Rush moments after celebrating a dynamic Dome home triumph. “I think the big thing for (Friday’s) game was not worrying about (Saturday).

“So now when we get to Sask (Saturday), everyone does what you have to do to get ready and you play that first five minutes.”

They did that well — and then some — Friday night.

In fact, the first four minutes for Del Bianco and the Riggers proved sharp, getting the jump on the Rush on goals from Tyler Pace and Tanner Cook.

And the hosts took it from there for leads of 4-0 after the first quarter, 5-2 at halftime and 9-4 after the third frame, highlighted by Del Bianco putting on a steady performance and the offence wowing the Dome crowd of 10,993 fans with a few highlight-reel goals on WestJet Field.

The result bounced them up into a three-way tie — at 7-8 — with the New York Riptide and Panther City Lacrosse Club, with tiebreakers in their favour to vault them back into a playoff spot they haven’t occupied for a few weeks.

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Another win over the Rush on Saturday would further boost them in the hunt for one of the last two post-season positions.

“We do that just with a solid effort like we did (Friday),” said Roughnecks transition Harrison Matsuoka. “We only played about 45 minutes (Friday). So (Saturday), we’ve got to put in a full 60 minutes. But it’s a good stepping stone, and now you take it to Saskatchewan in their own house. So we’re now looking forward to it, and we need it to get back to .500.”

NLL Calgary Roughnecks
Calgary Roughnecks Josh Currier, Tanner Cook (centre) and Thomas Hoggarth celebrate during a game against the Saskatchewan Rush on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday, April 5, 2024. Hoggarth scored a beauty. Cliff McCaig/NLL. Photo by Cliff McCaig /Cliff McCaig

Matsuoka himself was one electrifying reason why the Riggers are a step closer to pulling even in the win-loss column and entrenching themselves in a playoff position.

His goal to cap the home-side’s decisive first quarter was as quality as it gets. The Calgary native hauled in a long-bomb pass from Del Bianco and somehow swiftly got away a shot to beat Rush goalie Frank Scigliano while getting crunched by Rush defenceman.

The bang-bang-ouch play provided a major boost for the team early in to a major weekend.

“It did, because it was such a tough play,” said Roughnecks head coach Josh Sanderson. “Obviously a great pass by (Del Bianco), but Harry didn’t have a lot of room to catch that and get it on net before he gets in the crease or gets crushed.”

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And the hits — favouring the Riggers — just kept on coming.

Tomas Hoggarth also lit up the Dome with a dynamite goal, as part of the hosts’ four-goal third quarter, converting a no-look-windmill-through-his-own-legs shot while driving the net.

“We were telling him not to shoot one-handed, and then, of course, he goes and scores one-handed,” said Sanderson, only half-joking of Hoggarth. “So we’re kind of stuck now. It was a big goal. A lot of our guys scored big goals (Friday). But that was a big goal.”

Another worldly helped ensure the win with the Rush finding late form in the fourth, when Cook and Dan Taylor — both smothered by defenders — managed to work the ball to Haiden Dickson for his third goal of the game.

“Definitely didn’t ask them to be creative,” continued Sanderson of his charges. “I just said I wanted to see the ball cross the line. We talked through the week about just trying not to let our foot off the gas. We’ve had some 9-6 leads that you know turned into a one-goal loss or whatever the case may be. (Friday), we got that lead and we wanted to see if we could get that (larger) spread, and I thought we answered well all night.”

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They were led by Cook and his career-high eight-point effort, Dickson’s hat-trick performance and two goals each from Pace and captain Jesse King.

Meanwhile, Del Bianco was mostly outstanding, turning aside 52 Rush shots.

“It was close to it,” said Sanderson, when asked if it was his squad’s best team effort of the season. “We were just real good. I thought we had a good start, and Sask had good shots, and both goalies played pretty solid. We just we need to find a way to win and have a bit more of a killer instinct in the second half.”

The loss crippled the Rush, dropping them to 6-9.

“We knew how big the game was,” added Sanderson. “We needed the result before we went to their barn. Are we going to have to be better (Saturday) night and clean up a couple things? We do.

“But to get this win, all the guys were focused. Credit to all the guys.”

QUICK STICKS

Forward Hoggarth (upper body), transition Justin Inacio (lower body) and defender Ethan Ticehurst (sick) all returned to the Roughnecks on Friday night after each being sidelined for various amounts of weeks … Ahead of the contest, the Riggers placed rookie Bennett Smith on the practice player list … Scratches for the first game of the weekend double with the Rush were forward Logan Schuss and defenceman Robert Hudson.

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