OKOTOKS, AB — Andrew McBride has taken part in his fair share of National Lacrosse League training camps.
To be exact, this year marks his lucky 13th camp with the Calgary Roughnecks.
“You can see the skill level from previous camps is up,” said the Calgary captain following the first of two on-field sessions of camp at the Foothills-Okotoks Regional Field House on Saturday. “Guys know they have to push themselves for positions and whenever you’re pushing for positions it brings the best out of the guys and that’s what you want in a training camp. You want guys working hard and being accountable.”
The last time the Riggers were all together was back on May 31 in Rochester when their 2014 NLL campaign ended in disappointment.
One week after beating the Rochester Knighthawks 10-7 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on May 24, the ’Necks needed just one more win to lay claim to their first Champion’s Cup since 2009. Instead, they suffered a 10-7 setback to the Knighthawks at the Blue Cross Arena before also being edged 3-2 in the 10-minute tiebreaker game.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I think you’ve got to look at it as a building step,” McBride said. “Each year we’ve gotten better with this group. We almost got to the top of the mountain last year and this year we’ve got to build off that. This year guys came to camp in shape and you could see the hunger.”
Calgary coach Curt Malawsky couldn’t concur more with his captain.
“We wanted to keep this group together and give them one more shot at it,” said Malawsky, while noting that last year’s championship run only gave his players more experience. “Some people will say that the window of opportunity has passed you by and you didn’t seize it. I don’t look at it that way. We’re one step closer. We built that invaluable experience to be able to take the next step.”
Goalie Mike Poulin added that the Roughnecks have nothing to be ashamed about in losing to the three-time defending champion Knighthawks.
“It’s a tough league, every team is good,” Poulin said. “You can’t really hang your head when you know what happened last year happened. You just need to move on. It’s in the past. I’m sure everyone has thought about it enough and we’re ready to turn the page, get started and finish some business.”
Training camp started for the ’Necks on Friday with medicals followed by three on-field practices – two on Saturday and one Sunday morning. A total of 33 players, including 20 who suited up for the Roughnecks last season, took to the turf on the first weekend of camp.
“We didn’t really feel like we skipped a beat from last May to being out here today which is great,” said veteran Geoff Snider, while adding that Malawsky and assistant coaches Bruce Codd and Bob McMahon have some difficult decisions to make when it comes to trimming the roster to 20 players by Dec. 18. “Just from the drills today and how hard everyone is going and how fit everyone is, it’s a really competitive environment right out of the gates and I imagine it’s only going to get more challenging as we go through the middle of December and into January.”
Training camp will reconvene next Friday at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC) in Oakville, Ont. The Riggers will also scrimmage against the Toronto Rock on Saturday night (6 p.m.) and again on Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Swarm (noon).
“We’ve got a lot of East Coast guys so we’ll get out there and get a couple of scrimmages in Toronto and that’s always good,” said forward Curtis Dickson. “It’s always nice to play against other competition rather than seeing the same guys every weekend so it will be fun getting out there.”
Calgary will then host the Edmonton Rush in a pre-season game at the Saddledome on Dec. 20 (7 p.m.) as part of the Roughnecks Showcase Weekend.
“That will be awesome, playing against a good Edmonton team,” Dickson said. “Hopefully we can get quite a few fans out there and it will be good to get a real good game situation out there before the season starts up.”
The Roughnecks will then open the 2015 NLL season at home at the ’Dome on Jan. 3 when they host the Vancouver Stealth.
“We’re all itching to get back at it and get ready to go,” said forward Shawn Evans, who led the Riggers with 105 points (26 goals and 79 assists) in 18 games last season.
Jeff Shattler, who’s entering his ninth season with the Riggers, added that he and his teammates have set a goal of taking another run at a championship.
“We all have one goal and we all have that bad taste in our mouth from last year — I know I do,” Shattler said. “I know for myself I just can’t wait to get the season started.”