The 2017 National Lacrosse League season is here, with Toronto beating Rochester in Thursday night’s opener, and Colorado beating Buffalo on Friday.

ILIndoor’s Stephen Stamp and Bob Chavez are breaking down each team, looking at who is back, who is not and what needs to happen for 2017 to be a success. We’ve already looked at the 4 teams that already have played so in this installment, we look at the Calgary Roughnecks.

Calgary Roughnecks (8-10 last season)

Key losses: F Reilly O’Connor.
Key additions: F Riley Loewen.

Stephen Stamp

2016 was a thoroughly average year for the Calgary Roughnecks. They finished fifth — smack dab in the middle — in the National Lacrosse League standings. They were fifth in goals scored. They were sixth in goals allowed, but just one goal away from being fifth.

Having only changed three players on the roster from last year, how do the Roughnecks expect things to get better? Fair question, but there are reasons for optimism.

For one thing, they have a pair of talented young goalies on the rise. Frankie Scigliano didn’t have a great 2016 — posting a 4-5 record and .757 save percentage, 11th in the league — but he is resilient and is coming off an excellent summer in which he helped the Maple Ridge Burrards reach the Mann Cup finals. Christian del Bianco is a star in the making and may be ready to be a franchise goalie sooner rather than later even though he’s still just 19.

The right side of the offence is stacked with Curtis Dickson coming off a 61-goal season, Wes Berg poised to be a star after a strong rookie year and Tyler Digby an excellent mix of size and talent. The left side should be much better. Jeff Shattler had the highest-scoring season of his career, but other than that the lefties didn’t have a banner year. Dane Dobbie was hampered by injury and produced the lowest goal total of his career. Healthy again, he’s a lethal scorer, and a pair of draft picks are ready to contribute: fifth-overall pick Holden Cattoni and Riley Loewen. The former is a Calgary native who looks like he’s ready to take on a substantial role right away. The latter is a dynamic player who had a good year with Maple Ridge but was made expendable by the depth in Saskatchewan as the Rush were going to select Ryan Keenan first overall.

So the offence should be better and the goaltending is promising. For real improvement to come, the Roughnecks need to be better than they were defensively. On that end of the floor, the only addition is Chad Cummings. He can help — he’s a ball of energy who plays smart, aggressive defence and can contribute in transition — but the real difference will come if the existing core can play more consistently than it did last year.

There is plenty of toughness and talent on the Calgary D, and depth is a strong suit. If you asked 10 lacrosse observers who the Roughnecks best defender is, you might just get 10 different answers. I would tend to go with Dan MacRae, but I wouldn’t dismiss arguments for Greg or Jon Harnett, Scott or Mike Carnegie, Curtis Manning or Tyson Bell, coming off a tremendous rookie season. Tyler Burton was a great reclamation project, playing some excellent lacrosse after being signed part way through the season. Karsen Leung has grown as a defender and is one of the most dangerous transition players around. That only leaves Kellen Leclair from the unit, and I’m a pretty big fan; he just needs a bit more time to develop.

So the roster looks pretty good, certainly capable of competing well. One thing that could have an impact on the team’s record is luck. Sometimes a bounce here or there is a factor, and the Roughnecks came out on the short end in one-goal games in 2016, where a bounce can be a huge factor. They were 3-6 in such games last year, after going 3-5 in them in 2015 (that includes going 1-3 in OT each season). Simply put, Calgary is due for a few breaks. That may sound simplistic, but in such a tightly competitive league, the margin between Calgary’s 8-10 record in 2016 and the 11-7 they would have finished if they were 6-3 rather than 3-6 in one-goal games, can be pretty thin. Coach Curt Malawsky is a veteran who knows that it’s not time to panic. He’ll be preaching to his team to stay the course and keep working hard. Wins should follow, and with them another chance to make a run in the playoffs.

Bob Chavez

The 8-10 record for last winter is just a handful of goals away from being the opposite of that as the Roughnecks were involved in a league-high 9 games decided by 1 goal. And they were 3-6 in those games. Turn that around, or even take a split, and the outcome is much rosier.

That’s probably why GM Mike Board and coach Curt Malawsky didn’t change much in the way of personnel. With sticks like Curtis Dickson (107 points), Jeff Shattler (87), Wes Berg (67), Dane Dobbie (60) and Tyler Digby (59), the offense is in good hands. The secondary scoring could use a bit more punch, although rookie draft pick Holden Cattoni and a trade for Riley Loewen may address that.

The more pressing issue, kind of, is goal. Veteran Mike Poulin signed with Georgia over the summer, leaving Frankie Scigliano and Christian DelBianco as the primary options. Scigliano is the likely No. 1 guy because he’s got more NLL experience (5 seasons) and because he’s good. DelBianco’s upside is tremendous and it’s not reaching too far to think he won’t push Scigliano.

Overall, the 12.00 GAA last winter was a bit high for what the Riggers are accustomed to. But it’s difficult to imagine a unit that has guys like Dan MacRae, Greg and Jon Harnett, Mike and Scott Carnegie and Curtis Manning having more of the same kind of tough luck that it had last season in close games.

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