Wouldn't mind a rewind

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

The Calgary Roughnecks can easily draw parallels between this season and 2004 -- their championship year.

Heading into the playoffs, road games against the Colorado Mammoth and San Jose Stealth could await, and the Buffalo Bandits are the favourites to emerge from the East Division.

Those are the same clubs the Roughnecks beat in '04, just not necessarily in that order.

Plus, the Riggers are smoking hot, riding a three-game winning streak and putting it all together at the right time as they prepare to face the Mammoth in Denver tomorrow (7 p.m., Shaw TV tape delay).

In 2004, the team finished the season winning three of four and then knocking off San Jose and Colorado before defeating Buffalo for the title.

Captain Tracey Kelusky says the similarities don't end there, because this group has the same confidence now it did then.

They believe a National Lacrosse League title is within reach, especially because the team is healthy and refreshed after a trying season.

"All along, we've been saying that. Down the stretch, the games are bigger, and that's when you want to get hot," Kelusky said.

"In 2004, we got hot at the end of the year and started playing well as a group, making better decisions with the ball.

"Right now, we're doing that as well. We had that great work ethic early in the year. Now we're starting to apply the work ethic to intelligent play and good system work."

The stage is set for the Riggers to break a three-year string of losses in the first round of the playoffs.

While Calgary is on a winning streak, the Mammoth are headed in the opposite direction, losing three of their final five outings, with both wins against the league-worst Edmonton Rush.

Colorado should also be without forward Dan Carey, who actually lives with Kelusky in Calgary, and possibly transition player Josh Sims.

One thing the Mammoth has is a rabid home crowd at the Pepsi Center, the same one that helped Colorado knock off Calgary 18-17 in overtime during the 2006 playoffs.

The last time the Riggers played in Denver, they blew a four-goal lead in the opener.

All-star defender Andrew McBride didn't get to play in that outing due to a shoulder injury, so he's anxious to return to the building and said the 18,000-plus crowd isn't a huge advantage.

"I would rather be going to this building than any other building in the league," McBride said.

"Our guys play big in front of big crowds. I love playing in Denver, our team loves playing there, and our organization has had past success there. I love our chances."

Two years ago in Denver, the overtime thriller featured huge momentum swings. The division rivals traded five-goal runs in the second quarter, then each had a four-tally streak in the second half.

Kelusky doesn't expect that to happen again because his team has matured.

"One of the things we're learning is just to play consistent and not have those ups and downs, highs and lows," Kelusky said.

"The teams that are good in this league are ones that stay consistent. They don't allow teams to go on runs.

"If we stay consistent and play at a steady pace, you should have a lot of success."

One major positive the Riggers can focus on is in the past three weeks they have won in a variety of ways.

They pounded the Rush at home, then came back in the fourth quarter to beat Toronto in overtime. They finished the season by putting the hammer down and beating the Rush, who didn't have anything to play for.

After a season in which the club has battled injuries to key players, winning those games has built confidence.

"Mentally, it's half the battle," Kelusky said. "We've overcome a few different situations in the past month.

"It gives us a sense of confidence that we can handle whatever circumstance we encounter in a game. We all know there is so many different facets, whether you are up by five or trailing.

"It's obviously good we've had some hurdles and come out on top."


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