The regular season is supposed to get you ready for the playoffs. At least that’s the idea in all sports, including the National Lacrosse League. So one of the greatest mysteries of the last few seasons is how the Calgary Roughnecks can sparkle so much from January to April, then lay an egg in the playoffs. It’s something that’s downright annoying to the Roughnecks players who have been there during this stretch and you can bet the fire in their belly for the 2013 season is fueled by the desire to right that wrong. Is this the year the Roughnecks get over that hump? We’ll have to wait until May to find out because once again, the Riggers are a loaded team and have all the pieces in place to contend for a title. Now they just have to get there.
2012: 12-4, Lost West semifinal.
Top 3 returning scorers: Shawn Evans (32 goals, 47 assists for 79 points), Jeff Shattler (31-41, 72), Daryl Veltman (20-42, 62)
League leaders: Geoff Snider (232 loose balls)
Key Additions: F Joe Resetarits (draft), F Matt Dinsdale (draft), F Aaron Pascas (trade), F Jackson Decker (draft), D Brad Richardson (free agent).
Key Departures: F Kaleb Toth (retired), F Cory Conway (traded to Rush), D Mike Kilby.
Outlook: The outlook for the Roughnecks isn’t the problem. They’re one of the strongest, if not the strongest, year in and year out. The problem is the playoffs. The Riggers are an NLL-best 45-19 over the last 4 seasons but have a 4-3 playoff record to show for it. Three of those wins came in the 2009 championship season, meaning the team is 1-3 in the last 3 postseasons and that includes a first-round exit from the playoffs last year.
That’s pretty much was precipitated Dave Pym’s exit as coach and now Curt Malawsky, who was Pym’s assistant and a forward on that 2009 championship team, is the coach tasked with getting the Roughnecks over that playoff hump. And if anyone out there can match Pym in fire and intensity, it’s Malawsky. Now he’s got to find a way to transfer that energy to the floor and there is nothing to suggest that the roster this season will be any weaker than years past.
As impressive as the Riggers’ offense was with 216 goals scored (2nd most in the league), the defense rang in as the overall best in the league with just 170 goals-against. But when forward Curtis Dickson and goalie Mike Poulin went down late in the season with injuries, it affected the Rougnecks more than they thought it would.
Everyone’s healthy heading into 2013 and having your top 6 scorers back, who accounted for 166 of the 216 goals (76%), has got to sit well with fans and front office alike. Dane Dobbie (28-22, 50) will miss the first game as he serves a suspension from last year, but there’s plenty of depth on the left side to overcome that with Veltman and Shattler. Working on the right, Calgary has a lethal lineup in Scott Ranger (24-37, 61), Evans and Dickson (31-25, 56). Rookies Joe Resetarits, Matthew Dinsdale and Jackson Decker are all righties, too, so they could find themselves helping out in keeping up the tradition of a strong transition game for the Riggers. Calgary’s 11 short-handed goals tied Edmonton for most in the league last season, a stat helped greatly by faceoff ace Geoff Snider, whose dot dominance (276 faceoff wins, 2nd-most in NLL) sets up so many odd-man rushes for the Riggers before anyone can get set on D.
The back end is as stacked as ever in Calgary and the long legs and arms of the defenders should do well to keep on keepin’ on with the high-pressure system for which the Riggers are known. Scott Carnegie and Mike Carnegie are back, along with captain Andrew McBride, Curtis Dickson and Dan MacRae. Travis Cornwall and Jon Harnett and Greg Harnett make the unit even deeper and the addition of Brad Richardson brings even more veteran leadership to run in front of goalie Mike Poulin, a first-team All-Pro who finished last season with career-best numbers in goals-against (10.27) and save percentage (.789). Backup Frankie Scigliano was a rookie last year but didn’t play like it in the couple of games he stepped in for Poulin.
Overall, the Roughnecks have a very solid roster up and down the floor. The offense brings it, the defense shuts it down and the special teams are among the best in the league. All of that together keeps the Riggers at an elite level and they should be there again this year. The biggest question for Calgary is whether or not it can break the postseason jinx, which by now is just as much mental as it is physical. Maybe even moreso.