The 2017 season did not have the ending everyone was hoping for, but it wasn’t a complete disappointment.
With some important players missing large chunks of time due to injury and suspension, new players making an impact, and a young goalie tandem showing promise, there is plenty to look forward to in 2018.
H here’s five things we took away from the season:
1) MISSING PIECES
Right out of the gate, the Roughnecks were behind the 8-ball as both Kellen LeClair and Karsen Leung were placed on the Injured Reserve with season-ending injuries.
Then after an altercation in the pre-season, the Roughnecks opened the 2017 campaign with defender Greg Harnett and starting goaltender Frank Scigliano sitting on the bench due to suspension.
In the third game of the season, Harnett collided with Jeremy Noble and he was assessed a game misconduct. The league later ruled that he would be suspended for six games. That was dropped to five games upon appeal, but he was once again sidelined for the Riggers.
Missing a trio of defenders, the Riggers acquired Mitch Wilde from the Buffalo Bandits in a trade in February. After playing well in his first game with the team, he was placed on the injured reserve. He missed two games because of a lower body injury.
Injuries also hampered rookie Vaughn Harris, who missed all of the pre-season and part of the regular season. Bob Snider spent a portion of the season on the IR and Harnett missed the final month of the season due to a lower-body injury.
“I think the five guys that were out of our line-up, were in the Western Championship series last year,” said coach Curt Malawsky. “You put those guys in and that’s half your defence.”
That’s not ideal for a team that was looking to earn a spot in the playoffs and make a run to the Champion’s Cup.
2) YOUNG GOALIES
After goaltender Mike Poulin decided to move back east and sign with the Georgia Swarm, the Roughnecks were left with two young netminders.
Instead of making a move to acquire a veteran goalie, the team decided to rely on the two youngsters. With Frankie Scigliano coming off of a fantastic Mann Cup performance and Christian Del Bianco winning the Minto Cup, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
Due to Scigliano’s suspension, Del Bianco was in charge of the crease for the Riggers first game of the season and he did not have an ideal outing, showing plenty of nerves — not unexpected from a 19-year old in his first-ever start.
Del Bianco was inconsistent through the rest of the season, but he showed signs of brilliance in a pair of games against the Saskatchewan Rush in which he made a combined 77 saves, while allowing only 18 goals in just over 100 minutes of action.
Scigliano had a rollercoaster of a season, winning his first three games in convincing fashion before losing his next four and splitting the following four games with Del Bianco. He took back the reins on March 25 and ran with the job, winning four of five games and giving the team a good shot at a playoff spot. During those final five games, Scigliano allowed just 52 goals on 273 shots.
As the youngest goalie duo in the NLL, they experienced some difficulties this season, but they’ve shown they can grow into a fearsome tandem that can steal some wins for the Riggers.
3) ON THE RISE
In a year that became a re-tooling for the Roughnecks, they were able to give plenty of playing time to a number of their young guns.
Rookie Chad Cummings, Wesley Berg, Tyson Bell, and Riley Loewen all made big contributions this season and look to be even bigger contributors next season. In their first season with the Roughnecks, Cummings and Loewen went quietly about their business and made an immediate impact on the team. Meanwhile, Berg and Bell found a way to overcome the dreaded sophomore slump and shine in their second season.
A 25-year old rookie, Chad Cummings wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to make the team out of training camp. But after an impressive showing in the pre-season he became a mainstay on the back-end. He was quietly one of the most consistent defenders on the Riggers and with his blend of size (6-foot-5) and speed, there’s still room for him to get better with experience.
Loewen joined the Roughnecks in a summer trade with the Saskatchewan Rush. The lefty was expected to bring strong off-ball work and help open space for Dane Dobbie and Jeff Shattler. Not only did he do that, but after he gained confidence in his game and the chemistry with his fellow forwards, he had himself a very strong second half where he showcased what he can bring to the floor.
During his second campaign with the Riggers, Berg outdid himself from a year before, scoring 79 points (35g, 44a). He came out of the gate with some strong numbers, but saw his production drop during the team’s five-game losing streak. As the club pulled out of their slump, Berg’s scoring touch returned and he was instrumental in the team winning four of their final five games. If he keeps improving at this rate, Berg could be among the elite scorers in the NLL as soon as next season.
A flashy, big-haired defender, Tyson Bell wanted to be a difference maker in transition for the Roughnecks in 2017. He did just that, finishing second among NLL defenders with eight goals — most coming in situations where he ran the floor. Bell wasn’t just a transition weapon for the Riggers, though. He was once again a stalwart on their defence, locking down his man and using the body to force turnovers and grab loose balls. As one of the league’s faster players, look for Bell to get better moving forward and stretch the floor on a more consistent basis.
4) NO PLAYOFFS
Unfortunately, when the Vancouver Stealth defeated the Colorado Mammoth on April 22, the Roughnecks were officially eliminated from the 2017 playoffs.
It will be the first time since 2002 that the Riggers will not have a date to the dance. In 2002 — the inaugural season for the team — Calgary went 4-12, but turned it around quickly after that and had seen the playoffs for 14 straight years until now.
The goal is always to make the playoffs and after a disastrous middle of the season, the Roughnecks had to battle in a playoff-style game every week just to have a chance to make the post-season. They performed admirably and came quite close, but a loss to Vancouver on April 15 all but closed the door on a post-season return.
With an impressive showing against the reigning champion’s to end the regular season, there remains lots to be excited about heading into 2018 and possibly the start to a new playoff streak.
5) THE FANS
Through thick and thin, Roughnecks fans came out and supported the team all season long without fail.
Even once the team was out of playoff contention, they showed up in fantastic form to cheer on their team. On April 29, 18,845 Riggers fans packed the Rough House for a showing against the Saskatchewan Rush, setting a franchise regular-season record in the process.
Through the season, the Roughnecks averaged 11,622 fans at each home game. That equates to a total of 104,599 fans coming to the games and showing off their Roughnecks pride. That was the fourth highest total in the NLL, just behind Colorado, Saskatchewan, and Buffalo.
We’re very proud to have amazing fans and the players relish playing in front of such an amazing group week in and week out.