NLL: Battle of Alberta Will Decide West Champion

When the Edmonton Rush host the Calgary Roughnecks Saturday night in their final game of the regular season, the winner not only takes home the Homes by Avi Battle of Alberta trophy, they also earn the top seed in the NLL West Division for the postseason.

Calgary (8-7) currently enjoys a two-games-to-one advantage over the Rush (9-6) in their season series, but Edmonton has the edge in goals for/against. If the Roughnecks take this game, they win the series outright and bring home the trophy the two teams are competing over that represents the best of lacrosse in Alberta.

If Edmonton wins, this year’s series winds up tied and Edmonton takes the trophy on the basis of plus-minus.

But that trinket is just a minor detail. The real spoils of victory in this contest aren’t bragging rights; they’re the division title and a home game in the playoffs.

Calgary has won three of their last five games, dropping their last two straight by one goal apiece. Should they drop this game, it will mark the first time since 2010 that the Roughnecks do not finish atop the West standings and will place them in the unenviable task of having to make their playoff run on the road.

If the Rush win, they not only pick up a moral victory against the team that holds a 22-5 historical advantage over them in the regular season; it also means they get to host at least one playoff game for the first time in franchise history.

Calgary’s Shawn Evans is a virtual lock to win the league scoring title. He currently has 102 points, just two shy of the Roughnecks’ single-season record, and he holds a 13-point lead on the next highest scoring player who is active this weekend (Garrett Billings of the Toronto Rock has 100 points, but the Rock played their 16th and final game last weekend).

Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson both sit in second place in the NLL in goal scoring with 40 goals apiece, just one behind the Washington Stealth’s Rhys Duch. Dickson historically plays very well against Edmonton, so he has a good shot at winning that title; Dobbie suffered a significant knee injury in last weekend’s game against the Rochester Knighthawks an is a question mark for the game against the Rush.

If Dobbie can’t dress, it obviously puts a big hole in Calgary’s offense. The good news is that Daryl Veltman, who has been a scratch for three straight games, can step in and contribute. Even having missed five games this year, Veltman remains in sixth place in team scoring with 35 points, better than a three points per game average.

And the rest of the offense is not bad either.

Jeff Shattler is on the verge of a third straight 70-point season, the aforementioned Dickson has reached career highs in goals (40), points (60), power play goals (5), short-handed goals (6) and loose balls (46). Scott Ranger has reached the 50-point plateau for the sixth straight year.

Geoff Snider is running away with the loose balls (215) and faceoff wins (286) titles in the league.

The Rush as a team are having their best season in team history.

Mark Matthews is a cinch to win Rookie of the Year honors in the league. He is fifth in the NLL in goals (37) and second on the Rush in scoring (67 points).

Ryan Ward leads Edmonton in scoring with 70 points, the third time in his career that he has reached that plateau. Corey Small (62 points) is one point shy of tying his career best and has already set a personal best for goals (26).

With a team-best 119 loose balls and an NLL-best 39 forced turnovers, Kyle Rubisch is well positioned to repeat as the league’s Defenseman of the Year. Transition Jeremy Thompson has matched Rubisch’s 119 loose balls so far and is fifth in the NLL in faceoffs won with 160.

The war on the floor begins at 7:00 at Rexall Place.