CALGARY, AB — In a division with so many offensive dynamos, having a sturdy back-end is an essential part of contending for a spot in the playoffs.
Last season, the Roughnecks offence was inconsistent and dealt with injuries, forcing the defence to step up.
And not just in their own end.
In an attempt to replicate their fantastic 2016 performance, management decided to make very few changes to the defensive core.
Key Losses: Peter McFetridge
Key Additions: Chad Cummings
The lone departure was long-time Roughneck Peter McFetridge. The tall, speedy defenceman played nine seasons in the Black and Red, recording 60 points (23g, 37a) and 275 loose balls in 95 games. During the off-season, McFetridge signed a contract to join the rival Vancouver Stealth.
In his stead, the Riggers added 2012 fourth-round draft pick Chad Cummings. Cummings is built in the same mold as McFetridge – fast, strong, aggressive – but is five years younger.
A former hockey player, Cummings was a main-stay on the Brockport Golden Eagles blue line for the past few seasons, while residing on Calgary’s Hold-Out List.
The young defenceman made the decision to go pro in lacrosse this off-season and was impressive enough in camp to earn a spot on the active roster heading into 2017.
Joining him in the Roughnecks back-end will be a veteran group consisting of Mike Carnegie, Scott Carnegie, Jon Harnett, Greg Harnett, Dan MacRae, Curtis Manning, Tyson Bell, Kellen LeClair, Tyler Burton, and Karsen Leung.
With the core group of players having played together for many years, they have a very strong familiarity with each other.
That could have made the addition of defensive coach Rob Williams a tough one, but he wasn’t about to make any drastic changes, knowing that there was already a solid system in place.
“They have a system established already and I’m pretty good at adapting to that kind of stuff,” Williams said. “I’m not going to veer too far off the track. I might have some suggestions to things I want to do, but I feel like their system is similar to the one I was running in Maple Ridge, so there won’t be much of an adjustment.”
With all but one player returning from last season’s group, it won’t be hard to get up to speed with any adjustments Williams plans to make.
Included in that returning group are second-year players Kellen LeClair and Tyson Bell.
After strong rookie seasons in 2016, reports out of camp are that each player has come into training camp in great shape and with a confidence to become big factors on the Calgary defence.
LeClair is coming off of a strong summer, where he won a Mann Cup with the Six Nations Chiefs. He is a big-bodied lefty who is very athletic and can match up physically one-on-one with just about any forward in the NLL.
Bell had an impressive rookie season and will continue to use his high-motor and rough style of play to beat up opposing forwards. The man with the ‘unreal’ flow has looked to push the ball more in 2017 and he showed that willingness in the pre-season contests, where he scored a couple fantastic goals in transition.
Speaking of transition scoring, the entire defensive unit will be looking to contribute in any way that they can.
Last season, Dan MacRae led all NLL defenceman in scoring with 21 points and assists with 17. With Bell, Cummings, Jon Harnett, and others continually looking to push the pace, the Roughnecks could once again see a significant portion of their offence come out of the back-end.
To make the group even stronger, Calgary stashed face-off specialist Bob Snider and Garrett McIntosh on the team’s Practice Roster. Extremely talented draft-pick Vaughn Harris is biding his time on the Physically Unable to Perform list until he can join the team. With a very talented and versatile depth, the Roughnecks have options should they experience any injuries this season.
All in all, opposing teams should be prepared to take a beating in the offensive zone and be ready to defend the relentless transition from the talented Riggers defence.