The Vancouver Warriors host the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night at the Rogers Arena, and the fact it is the only meeting between the two teams this season is a massive miss for the National Lacrosse League.
The NLL schedule makers should have had the Warriors and Roughnecks playing a home-and-home set this season at the very least, and could have easily had them meeting in Calgary on opening night for its TSN showcase game in December to start that off.
When unveiling the schedule back in September, the league pointed to a focus on “established rivalries” and “impactful storylines.” Vancouver versus Calgary is low-hanging fruit in that regard, and the league walked right by.
Consider that Vancouver general manager and coach Curt Malawsky is in his first year with the Warriors after spending the past 15 seasons with the Roughnecks. It was the kind of run you make tribute videos about when the guy returns to your rink. It was easy to think that trip for Malawsky would come sooner rather than later.
The Coquitlam product suited up the final two years of his 12-year NLL playing career with Calgary, helping them win their second-ever league championship in his final game in 2009. He did a three-year turn as assistant coach and then a 10-year stint as head coach, which was highlighted by guiding Calgary to its third-ever league title in 2019.
He signed with the Warriors in mid-July, three weeks after his latest contract with the Roughnecks had run out and two months after he was named the NLL coach of the year for spearheading Calgary’s franchise-best 13-5 mark last season.
By various accounts, Calgary made a pitch to get him to stay. The Vancouver Canucks, who own the Warriors, recruited him away, inking him to a reported five-year contract and selling him on less travel and more time with his family at their Maple Ridge home, along with how turning around the Warriors would help boost the profile of the sport in his home province.
The Warriors have just a single playoff game to show for the past nine seasons.
They went 4-14 a year ago under coach Troy Cordingley. It was Cordingley’s one season in Vancouver after successful runs behind the bench with the Roughnecks, Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits. He was Malawsky’s head coach with that 2009 championship Calgary team. Josh Sanderson was also a top player on that squad, and Sanderson hired Cordingley as one of his assistants after being named as Malawsky’s successor as Calgary’s bench boss.
There’s plenty to chew on. You can add that Malawsky and Sanderson had words on the floor after Calgary beat Vancouver 12-8 in a pre-season scrimmage at the Langley Events Centre back in November. Malawsky was angry Sanderson had called a timeout while leading 10-4 to set up an offensive play with Vancouver having already agreed to shorten the second half because the Roughnecks players were worried about being late for their flights home that day.
Malawsky talked about the set-to openly on the Warriors’ game recap on their social media channels that day.
Vancouver and Calgary used to meet three times a season, but the league switched this year from two conferences and a focus on regional play to a single-table, unified standings and all 15 teams squaring off at least once. The clubs round out their 18-game seasons now with a second game against four squads, and that’s where the rivalries and storylines are supposed to come in.
Vancouver’s doubleheaders this year? They’re against the Georgia Swarm, Las Vegas Desert Dogs, Saskatchewan Rush, and Colorado Mammoth.
Putting together a schedule for a 15-team league is far from simple, especially when it comes to the first crack at a brand new format. There are many teams’ wants to try to serve. It just feels that a second duel between Vancouver and Calgary makes a lot of sense.
This lone meeting is spiced up by the fact the Warriors (1-3) and Roughnecks (1-2) are both in need of getting traction on their seasons.
Both clubs had byes last week. Vancouver hasn’t played since dropping a 12-11 overtime decision on the road to the Mammoth on Dec. 30. Vancouver was up 11-5 at halftime, but their offence vanished after the intermission. They looked to have won it overtime, when Kevin Crowley’s clever flip pass sent Keegan Bal in all alone and Bal tucked a shot past Colorado netminder Tyler Carlson while diving across the crease. It was ruled a goal on the floor, but was turned over after a lengthy video review.
Connor Robinson won it with a goal for Colorado after that.