When the Calgary Roughnecks brass sat down before ever playing a game, they planned on being in the NLL Champions Cup game by year three.
“When they got the team, we brought in Chris Hall and Dave Bremner and the goal was three years,” Kaleb Toth said. “In three years, we are going to be in a championship. Hopefully win, but three years, that’s the goal.
“Year one, obviously we had to make a lot of different changes and year two, we saw the success of those changes. We knew we weren’t that far away, but we made a few more moves.”
Those moves came in the form of Craig Gelsevik and the Wray Brothers – Taylor and Devan. All three were brought in to shore up the back end, and they exceeded expectations.
“That year, no one really expected us to win,” Toth said. “I think a guy on Sportsnet picked us to win. He said ‘Ah I’m going to with Calgary.’”
The Roughnecks went 10-6 in the regular season, finishing third in the West Division and the final playoff spot. With a offence that was now five deep in scoring potential, the team finished second in the league with 214 goals for. Lewis Ratcliff led the team with 71 points, followed by strong performances from Tracey Kelusky, Ted Dowling, Toth and Jason Wulder.
With the influx of the Wray brothers, the defense allowed 20 less goals than the previous year. Taylor won NLL Rookie of the Year and NLL Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“We had a good team and we got really hot at the time going into playoffs.”
The road was where the team was meant to be, owning a 6-2 season away from the ‘Dome in the regular season.
They beat the Stealth in San Jose for round one, followed by the Colorado Mammoth in Denver in round two.
However, it just so happened that the 8-8 Buffalo Bandits were the East Division’s representative, meaning Calgary was going to host the NLL Champions Cup game on May 7, 2004.
“I know a lot of guys were a little nervous because of the home record but it’s one game,” Toth said. “When they got they out there for the national anthem and saw 19,000 in a sold out building, it was ‘okay, we are meant to play here and we are going to win.’
“We had no doubt for the whole game that we were going to win.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Kelusky sealed the game for the Roughnecks early in the fourth quarter, with Calgary holding onto a 14-11 win. Goalie Curtis Palidwor was named game MVP.
“In three years for an expansion team to win a championship, it’s pretty much unheard of, especially in a sport like lacrosse,” Toth said. “For us to do it in three years, especially doing it in my home town and being there since day one and seeing the pieces come together, it was special.”
He added: “That championship game was a huge step for our franchise because not only did we win but we got a lot more media coverage so that means more exposure. Plus all 18,000 people in the building, saw the atmosphere and absolutely loved it.”
It was the second NLL championship ring for Toth, but he would prove to have one more left in him.