Riggers size up unsung Titans

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

The Calgary Roughnecks don't know much about their opponent for the Champion's Cup, but they are familiar with the scenario.

Or at least they should be.

The New York Titans are a third-year National Lacrosse League franchise on the upswing.

They are led by a superstar player in Casey Powell and have ridden a hot goalie, Matt Vinc, to the league final.

Sounds a lot like the 2004 Roughnecks, who captured the Cup in their third season.

Back then, it was Tracey Kelusky as the marquee player, and Curtis Palidwor picked up the game MVP in shutting down the Buffalo Bandits.

In the only meeting with the Titans, Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden, Powell didn't play as the Riggers won 12-10.

Throw that one out, as the Titans put a much different lineup on the floor Saturday night in beating the Bandits to reach the NLL's championship game.

"We have a big challenge," Kelusky said after a 17-5 semifinal pounding of the San Jose Stealth Saturday night.

"They have a big athletic defence with a goaltender that is playing outstanding. He's coming into his own.

"When we played them in New York, we matched up well and came out with the win, but they were without a couple of their key guys.

"We have a lot of respect for that New York team. If they can hold Buffalo to three goals, that says something. We have our hands full."

If the Bandits would have won the East, it would have created an interesting storyline for the Riggers.

The Roughnecks boast a former Bandit as coach (Troy Cordingley) and three players who were with the Buffalo club (Jeff Shattler, Kyle Couling and Mike Carnegie).

The connections to the Titans are minimal. In the expansion draft before the 2007 season, the New York squad took Palidwor off the Riggers' roster, but the goalie only spent half a season there before getting traded.

Former Riggers practice-roster forward Jamie Rooney is the only current player to be with both teams, but Rooney never did suit up with the Roughnecks in a game.

The strongest connection tying the two teams may be in the outing this season because that was when Matt King took over in goal. He's started all but one outing since, and he has a .863 save percentage in the post-season.

The goaltending matchup in the Cup will be a good one.

Vinc took over midway through the first year and has developed into a solid netminder. He has a .847 save percentage in the playoffs.

Both the Riggers and the Titans went 4-12 in their first years and were 10-6 by the third season.

The difference with this season is the Riggers are red-hot and have been all year long.

After building a 12-4 regular-season record, the Roughnecks won their first two playoff games at home by a combined 32-13 score.

"I don't think you can expect something like this again in the post-season," Kelusky said.

"It will be tough next weekend."

The Riggers are hoping to rekindle the excitement they had in 2004 when a packed Saddledome helped them beat the Bandits 14-11 in the Champion's Cup.

Cordingley remembers the home-floor advantage well, being he was an assistant coach with the Bandits.

"It's not something I like to think about," Cordingley said. "I was the offensive coach with Buffalo. I remember trying to design a play up against Calgary, but I couldn't hear myself talk.

"That's what we're hoping for with this championship game."


Videos

Photos