CALGARY, AB — The season seats were prime, Section 212, Row 4, four of ‘em, right above the players tunnel coming out onto the Scotiabank Saddleome concourse, near the middle of the floor.
From the moment of the Calgary Roughnecks’ National Lacrosse League inception.
“I’d sit there, at games,’’ recalls Holden Cattoni, “imagining it was me standing in the tunnel, waiting for my name to be announced and then running out the floor, wearing a Roughnecks’ jersey.
“Making plays like Tracey Kelusky or scoring goals like Kaleb Toth.
“When you’re a kid, it seems impossible. So, so far away.
“But Friday it’s actually going to happen.”
Eighteen years of countless practices, climbing through various competitive levels, studying his idols, those hours upon hours out shooting the ball or fiddling with a lacrosse stick in an effort to make it a part of you, as close to an appendage of your arms, as possible.
It’s all led to this.
“It’s a dream, for Holden, and for us,’’ says his dad, Guido, of Holden’s National Lacrosse League debut, for a franchise he’s supported for as long as he can remember.
“Since Holden started playing lacrosse, when he was four years old, this is what he’s always wanted, what’s he’s always talked about.
“I remember we were at the tail end of a hockey season and we happened to see an Axemen poster in the arena and that’s what we decided to do.
“He’d played T-ball and soccer before. But once he tried lacrosse … he’s never looked back.
“A big reason has been my wife, Shannon. She’s always told the kids to never take any shortcuts. Dream what you want to dream and work hard to get there.
“I give her all the credit for that, for sure.”
There is no dream that can quite compare with the hometown dream.
“For him, there’s only been the one dream,’’ says dad. “In college, the American kids who grow targeting that Div 1 scholarship or playing at the Div 1 NCAA level, they had a hard time relating to Holden, whose only dream has always been to play in the NLL.”
That being so, the invading Vancouver Stealth don’t figure to be near as problematical as the demand for ducats in and around the Cattoni household out in Heritage Pointe.
“I’m having at least eight (tickets) coming,’’ reports Cattoni. “I’m trying to track down more from some of my teammates right now. If not, it looks like I’ll have to find a couple somewhere. I’m trying to grab as many as I can.
“In a perfect world, if I had access to unlimited tickets, I’d put my hands on, oh, 20 to 25 or so.”
And if not …
“We’ll be on the hoop for some tickets,’’ sighs Guido. “But we’ll make it work. Don’t worry about it.”
His parents long ago RSVPed, of course. His grandparents, too. An uncle. Lifelong pals. Lacrosse mentors.
Cattoni’s hockey-player younger brother Taite had been scheduled to be back at Salisbury Prep School in Connecticut on Tuesday, post-holiday-break, but with the blessing of his coach and teachers he’s sticking around for Holden’s NLL debut and flying back Saturday morning.
“It’ll be a real family affair,’’ says Cattoni. “Which only makes it extra special.”
As the fifth pick at this 2016 NLL draft, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the 5-foot-11, 200-pound gunner, late of the Johns Hopkins University Blue Jays and the Peterborough Century 21 Lakers.
“I really think he’s built for this league,’’ reckons ‘Necks’ coach Curt Malawsky. “He shoots the ball very, very well on the run. A very good low-ball shooter.
“He’s got a good overhand shot, doesn’t need a lot of time and space to get it off. There’s been a learning curve, through camp and the exhibition game because the game’s a little bit quicker.
“If you think about it, it’s probably not there anymore. You have to play on instinct.
“But I think he’s adapted well in camp and been very receptive to new instruction and picks up the plays very well.
“There’s no sense of entitlement in him, either. He’s here to earn a spot. We’re excited to have him.”
And he’s excited, too. To at long last be a front-line part of it all.
“I think I bring a little bit of youth, some fresh legs,’’ Cattoni estimates. “I can run around and do a lot of the dirty work for some of the older guys. I can also stretch the floor, shooting from the outside, which opens up a lot of things. That’s one tool coach Malawsky wants me to use.
“And just playing a smart, tough, fast game, keeping up with the NLL pace.
“I think I’m ready.
“Going into camp, I didn’t really know what to expect. Luckily, veteran guys like Dane Dobbie and (Jeff) Shattler, who I know on a personal level, were able to help me out, show me the ropes, allowing me to feel more comfortable out on the floor.”
And, naturally, being a hometown boy and all, there’ll be no end of peepers on Cattoni’s each and every on-floor movement.
“We’d be lying to say he’s not going to think about that,’’ acknowledges Malawsky. “There’ll be added pressure. But typically pressure is something you put on your own shoulders.
“We’re going to do everything to shelter him from that and put him in positions to help him succeed. We want what’s best for him. If he’s doing well, our team’s doing well.
“External distractions … we have a veteran group to help him deal with those and I like to think our coaching staff is pretty good at deflecting that stuff, as well.”
Friday can’t arrive quick enough.
“It’s a special thing,’’ says Guido Cattoni, “to watch your kid work as hard as Holden has his whole life and then be able to see it happen for him.
“For a kid like him growing up around the Roughnecks, watching the games, idolizing the players of the past, to kinda finally follow in their footsteps … when it’s been his dream his whole life?
“An incredible thing, for all of us.”
And those season seats the Cattoni clan laid claim to back in the inaugural season of the Roughnecks?
“Oh, I gave them up a couple years ago,’’ confesses dad. “The kids were bigger and Holden was off at college.
“You know how it is …
“But they were great seats.
“Maybe I can get them back. I’m actually going to see if it’d be possible.”