Editor’s Note: Kicking off their campaign tonight is the Calgary Roughnecks and we’re in time to give an early peek. Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we are beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage for 2016, starting with a preseason preview series! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
Right before their thrilling win over the Georgia Swarm, we broke down the workings of the Colorado Mammoth. Now we’re just in time for their season opener against the defending champs, we take a look at the only team left in Alberta, the Calgary Roughnecks!
2016 NLL Preview: Calgary Roughnecks
The story for Calgary will be whether or not they can recover after losing their leading scorers and points-man, NLL MVP Shawn Evans. Evans accounted for 130 points (47 g, 83 a), 98 loose balls and 18 postseason points and those numbers are going to be nearly impossible to replace. Also missing from the righty side is Sean Pollock, gone to free agency and same with lefty Daryl Veltman. The Riggers are going to attempt to fill the void with righties Tyler Digby and Wes Berg although neither has put up Evans-like numbers in the league yet.
Another blow to the core of the team came at Captain Andrew McBride’s offseason retirement. It’s impossible to replace a player like McBride and much of the weight will fall on Mike Carnegie to try as he recently earned the C for 2016. Moleski is also out for Calgary, signing with the Stealth after coming up on free agency. This will leave a lost of questions to be answered by the Roughnecks back line and giant gaps with only rookies to fill them.
Calgary was the only team sub .500 to make the playoffs last season, finishing 4-5 at home and 3-6 on the road. Home to some of the rowdiest fans in the league, the Rough House put up consistently solid attendance numbers. The Roughnecks get to put on a show in 2016 as the only team left in the province.
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/2/16 vs. Saskatchewan Rush
- Arena: Scotiabank Saddledome
- 2015 Record: 7-11 (Regular Season), 2-2 (Playoffs)
- 2015 Attendance: 11,642
- Mascot: Howie (Honey Badger)
- Dance Team: Drill Crew
- Website: CalgaryRoughnecks.com
Tyler Digby had played in all 36 games since the start of his career, racking up 74 points (38 g, 36 a) in 2015 and 58 his rookie season. Digby is a monstrous lefty that is damn-near impossible to throw around. At 6’3”, 230 lbs, the former college football player is going to fill a much different role than the former righty start Shawn Evans but can also be relied on to score clutch goals for the offense. Working the left side with Digby is NCAA sensation from the University of Denver, Wesley Berg. Berg is going to need to handle the ball a whole lot more following the departure of Evans. Originally drafted as a crash and bang guy, the rookie is getting the green light to carry some of the goal scoring load for his new squad. The youngster had a stellar career at DU, finishing as Denver’s career points leader with 255 and goals leader with 188. Berg scored 39 career NCAA Tournament goals, the second most in NCAA history. The Coquitlam star also competes with the Denver Outlaws in the MLL over his post-collegiate summers.
Coming into to an open spot for lefty forwards is rookie selection Reilly O’Connor. The 6’1” feeder has a knack for putting the ball in the the right guy’s stick and did so best in his Junior A career with the Whitby Warriors. In juniors O’Connor racked up an insane 299 assists in 98 totals games.
The defensive pair of rookies, Kellen LeClair and Tyson Bell, are smart and strong defenders that are going to get real playing time right away to help rebuild the foundation of the Roughnecks back line. Bell is a mammoth of a man at 6’2”, 210 lbs and a full head of caveman hair. He competed the past two seasons with the undefeated OCC Lazers where the long pole accumulated 10 goals and 8 assists on his way to his 2nd NJCAA title. The big defender scored 22 total points in juniors with St. Catherine’s. 20-year-old LeClair wasn’t such a big name in the 2015 NLL Draft, but could be a huge contributor early for the Riggers. Looking to make the jump from a predominantly Junior B player with the Windsor Clippers to the NLL, the 6’4”, 210 lbs lefty has his work cut out for him. He jumped up to compete with the Six Nations Arrows at the end of last season to help lead them to a Minto Cup championship and to prepare himself for the next level.
Human highlight reel Curtis Dickson is the only returning righty to the Roughnecks offense. Superman is best known for scoring goals in close proximity which is perfect for giving rookies Digby and Berg the time and room they love to work with. Last season Dickson put in a career-high 48 goals (5th in the NLL) and 48 assists in his fifth NLL run. With stats that have exponentially climbed each season, you can be sure the gold medal winning Dickson will be looking to step it up again in 2016.
The righties stole the show last season with the majority of the team’s points flowing through the sticks of Evans and Dickson. Lefties Dane Dobbie and Jeff Shattler both had much weaker numbers than those from 2014 because of which and that needs to be turned around this season. Shattler tore it up for the Iroquois Nationals silver medal winning team this past September and can be used to move bodies and score goals in tight.
Last season, Shattler finished with 28 goals, shy of his typical over-30 tallies despite playing all 18 games and Dobbie had 36 goals in 16 games. Now heading into season 9, Dobbie needs to channel is inner-craftiness and bring some creativity back to the lefty group.
The only addition to this side of the floor is the 7th overall pick, rookie Reilly O’Connor. The entire offense, spare Dobbie, stands over 6’1” combing for one of the tallest forward groups in the league.
Like I mentioned earlier, the defense is going to take a hit with the loss of former-Captain Andrew McBride. Luckily the Harnetts, Jon and Greg, are back with the Carnegies, Mike and Scott, and Garrett McIntosh as the backbones of the Roughnecks defense.
Mike Carnegie will attempt to fill the shoes of the departed McBride. He finished with 23 forced turnovers, 63 loose balls and 10 points after playing all 18 games last season. Carnegie is a hardworking individual that will do what he can to carry and motivate his defense this season. Scott Carnegie is returning after a fairly successful 2015 season, now going into his 8th with the team and in the NLL. The stay at home defender will be also relied upon to help lead a McBride-less defensive group, one that also gave up 217 goals in 2015 with a -5 differential.
Jon Harnett was kept home for much of 2015 and didn’t get the go ahead in transition nearly as much as 2014. His brother Greg Harnett also returns to the Calgary bench after two full seasons in a row with the Roughnecks. Greg is a stay at home lefty defender that fights hard for loose balls. Both guys will also need to step up and pressure righty shooters for Calgary to have a successful defense.
Rookies Tyson Bell and Kellen LeClair are going to get thrown into the fire right away.
The Riggers are going to feel the effects of the new face-off rules early in the 2015 season. Gone is longtime draw man Geoff Snider and only yesterday was brother Bob signed to the practice roster. Also out the door is former 1st rounder Reinhold and speedster Travis Cornwall.
They do retain last year’s Transition Player of the Year nominee Karsen Leung who earned the A this season and will lead the transition team for Calgary. From the looks of their preseason games, they’re hurting at the face-off circle with Curtis Manning taking, and losing, most of them. Leung had 35 points on 11 goals and 24 assists in his 2nd year in the league. He’s scooped up 192 loosies over the past two seasons and now taking on an assistant captain role, Leung will look to better those stats in 2016. Manning is more of a defensive-minded transition guy for the Riggers but after cutting Geoff Snider out of the picture, it looks like it will be on his shoulder to take the majority of draws early. With the lack of a strong face-off guy, it’s going to be on the shoulders of the rest of the face-off team to fight for early possessions.
Dan MacRae also returns and will likely float between transition and defensive roles with the rebuilding Roughnecks. MacRae finished 2015 without a goal after finding 7 in 2015. The Roughnecks will likely loosen up the reigns on the high-pressure defender and let him carry make a few more decisions with the ball this season.
Starting the season on the Injured Reserve list is veteran Peter McFetridge who will boost the transition game upon his return to the bench.
Competition is a good problem to have for Calgary. Although it looks like junior lacrosse all-star Frankie Scigliano (6-6) has the starting job tied up, it doesn’t mean he’s going to have an abundance of freedom. Making the playoff push, Scigliano had a great end to the 2015 season, going 5-2 to edge out Vancouver for the post-season spot. Yet, Scigliano couldn’t maintain momentum and got yanked early in the Western semi-finals and was replaced by Poulin who came in to win the game for the Roughnecks.
Although he couldn’t take home 2 wins in the Western Finals, veteran Mike Poulin (1-5) is heading into his 10th season in the league, of which he’s been the starter for at least 4 seasons. Poulin spent his summer full-time between the pipes for the Brooklin Redmen and with the Czech Republic national team and should be at full-strength to battle for the job.
Also making the cut is wonder-boy and Coquitlam Adanacs star, Christian Del Blanco. At barely 18 years of age, the rookie goaltender demanded to be drafted this season and is also ruthlessly fighting for the respect of the coaching staff and his peers. The kid is crafty and shows a lot of promise for the future, don’t be shocked to see Del Blanco get some bench time with Calgary, particularly near the end of the season.
Calling it Early
I think the Roughnecks are most likely going to end up as the lone Western Conference team left out of the postseason picture. There’s a lot of rebuilding gone and the clutch factor that Shawn Evans brought to the team is now gone. We will find out a lot about the Roughnecks early on as they kick off the 2016 campaign against their rivals and defending Champion’s Cup victors, the Saskatchewan Rush tonight at 7 pm MT.
How crazy am I? If you think that the Roughnecks are going to fight their way to the Champion’s Cup, let me know in the comments below! If you hate Calgary and think they stink, say that too!
Up Next: Buffalo Bandits