Even Kaleb Toth must have been worried about what he was getting himself into.
After two straight NLL Champions Cup games with the Toronto Rock, he was now the face of the expansion Calgary Roughnecks franchise.
He went from playing with some of the greatest lacrosse stars of all-time to a team that featured 12 rookies, a handful of which were over 30.
In the franchise’s first game, the Roughnecks were historically inept.
“It’s one of those games that you’re not going to forget being there,” Toth said.
The date was November 24, 2001 and the Roughnecks were taking on the expansion Montreal Express.
Simply, the final score was Express 32 Roughnecks 17.
“They had the east influence so they had more eastern players than us,” Toth opined. “They executed their gameplan better than we did. Honestly, I don’t know why. We just weren’t that good. We really weren’t that good.”
The game is still the record for most goals scored by one team, and combined to be the highest scoring game in NLL history.
John Kilbride, a 31-year-old rookie from Calgary, scored 11 points in the game, a franchise record that stood until this year when Shawn Evans notched 13 points.
“It wasn’t a great defensive battle but we scored 17 goals, there was a couple fights and it was entertaining for the fans. That was what we wanted to do, just not that bad.”
The Roughnecks featured two goaltenders in the game – Derek Collins and Matt King.
Collins was a journeyman netminder, having lined up for the Rochester Knighhawks, Baltimore Thunder, Syracuse Smash and Ottawa Rebel over the previous six years. He was a starter at a few stops beforehand, despite not owning very good numbers.
After the first game, he barely saw the floor again in his NLL. He was released partway through the Roughnecks inaugural season, and didn’t play in the NLL again until 2007.
“I feel bad for Derek because he’s a good guy and a decent goaltender but we didn’t give him a lot of help on defense,” said Toth.
It took a few more years until King became a championship-worthy goaltender.
For an expansion team, the first game couldn’t have gone much worse.
“We couldn’t hit any lower. We knew we couldn’t go down, we could only go up. Throughout the year, that’s what we did.”
Calgary lost the rematch in Montreal the following week, but won four of their next five games.
Then it went downhill again and they never won another game all season, finishing at 4-12. It was the only year the Roughnecks have missed the playoffs.
“The first year in the history that the Roughnecks haven’t made the playoffs,” Toth said. “We struggled, we didn’t have a great team. We had good players but not a bunch of All-Stars.”
Toth was the best of the bunch, setting career-high in points with 79 to lead the team.
But by the time next year rolled around, the team had completely changed.
One of the new faces was Tracey Kelusky, and the Roughnecks were never the same after that.