If defence indeed wins championships, as the old saying goes, the Roughnecks look good to add a third trophy to their mantle this year.
The club’s unsung heroes that make up its extremely efficient pressure defence, along with goalie Mike Poulin, who was the evening’s first star, rose to the challenge Saturday night, keeping their club in the game as the Riggers usually explosive offence had about as much punch as a pop gun for most of the night.
The Riggers collected 198 goals during the regular season — the second highest total behind the Washington Stealth’s 203 — but couldn’t find each other with passes or the net with their shots for much of the first half.
They settled down and played better in the second half but still scored just once in the third quarter.
Luckily for them, the Mammoth managed just a single tally in that quarter, as well, thanks to the team’s aforementioned defence.
When the dust settled, the Riggers scored 10 goals on 43 shots — which included two late empty netters. That was well below their season average of 12.375.
However, Poulin and the club’s defence held the Mammoth to only six goals on 49 shots, three of those markers coming on the powerplay.
Keeping an NLL team to three even-strength goals is as impressive as a shutout in hockey. It doesn’t happen often, especially in the playoffs.
“I can’t say enough about how well our defence played, and how well Mike Poulin played,” said Riggers coach Dave Pym.
“You could see the two-week layoff we had before this game really hurt our offensive guys at the beginning, but the defence stepped up. They did the things they needed to and held the Colorado guys in check.”
Despite finishing fourth in the West, the Mammoth attack features some of the best offensive players in the NLL, highlighted by John Grant Jr., Dan Carey and Brian Langtry. In short, the club’s goalscorers are no pushovers.
However, they were stymied by Calgary’s aggressive D, which pressures the ball carrier and tries to force a turnover or a bad shot.
Calgary’s defensive structure was put in place four seasons ago by then-head coach Troy Cordingley, who employs the same systems now as head coach of the Toronto Rock. Pym and his staff have now seemingly perfected it.
The Riggers team defence approach requires every player to know their assignment and be in top physical shape to stay aggressive for the full game.
“I think our defence is the most complex in lacrosse,” said Pym. “But everybody played their roles and did what they had to.”
With Calgary hanging onto a two-goal lead late and Colorado pushing with the extra attacker and their goalie pulled, it was fitting the club’s captain and defensive lynchpin Andrew McBride was the player to streak down into the offensive zone and put the ball in the net to seal the victory.
“We wanted to try and keep these guys playing five on five with us and really pressure them,” said McBride. “We did a great job tonight.”
Poulin collected his first post-season win with the victory, making some incredible saves and none moreso than a late one on Carey in which he robbed the Mammoth sniper, who looked to have an open net on a one-timer.
“There’s a reason he’s our No.-1 guy,” said Pym. “He was tremendous for us tonight.”
The praise didn’t end there.
Asked to describe his goalie in one word, McBride responded “amazing.”
The same could be said for McBride and his defensive mates.