The 2018 National Lacrosse League campaign was one of great strides for the Calgary Roughnecks, finishing third in the Western Division and making a divisional finals appearance just a year after missing the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural season.
Although the past two seasons have seen substantial roster turnover as the Calgary Roughnecks have made a conscious effort to get younger, they have been able to successfully meld youth and veteran experience into a strong lineup.
Look no further than familiar offensive threats Curtis Dickson (45G,47A) and Dane Dobbie (36, 49A) who over the past two seasons have been joined by sharpshooter and local product Holden Cattoni along with former Coquitlam Jr Adanac and Team Canada standout Wesley Berg to form a potent front gate. Each of these players’ unique skill set a long with some solid depth has allowed the Roughnecks to rebuild an offense that has seen the likes of Shawn Evans and Jeff Shattler depart in recent seasons.
For a team that has long offered up some of the sport’s most prolific offensive weapons and has been led by one of the strongest offensive minds, some of the biggest changes have taken place on the other side of the ball. The most impactful of those changes have been the emergence of 21-year-old goaltending star Christian Del Bianco.
The Coquitlam native, already having a full season of NLL starts a season ago while still being of Junior age, is coming off another tremendous summer in which he backstopped the Jr A Adanacs to a Minto Cup championship over the Brampton Excelsiors. As impressive as his fundamentals, athleticism, and winning pedigree have been through his young career it is Del Bianco’s demeanor and poise that has the Roughnecks very optimistic about their future between the pipes.
Along with Del Bianco the Roughnecks transition game resurfaced a season ago through the youth movement as guys like Zach Currier, Tyson Bell and Tyler Pace all made their presence known. With how much faster this game has become over the last few seasons and team constantly looking to push the ball up the floor, this trio of dual threats have made a real difference to Calgary’s ability to push the pace. If the Roughnecks can continue to add hands to their back gate through the draft, especially after losing so much of their previous leadership group defensively, it will go a long way in developing a new identity.
One of the biggest advantages this Calgary team should have is the fact that head coach Curt Malawsky has always placed a high priority and focus upon fitness. This should only serve to help the Calgary Roughnecks in the second halves of games to either comeback against or pull away from teams late. Especially given the fact that Calgary only went 1-4 in one goal games a season ago there is a strong potential for those outcomes to flip for a team that relied heavily on youth last season.
The division, aside from the defending champion Rush, is wide open and full of turnover. I expect to see Calgary to be comfortably over .500 in 2019. There is no question the NLL is a year-to-year league and so many things rapidly change. But the Saddledome is consistently one of the better atmospheres and toughest places to play in the league. Look for Calgary to finish just behind the Rush comfortably at second in the West with a real chance to upset them come playoff time. With the season fast approaching we will begin to find out what lies ahead for the Roughnecks on December 15 when the new look Vancouver Warriors visit the Saddledome.
See the 2019 Roughnecks’ schedule here.