The big question for Calgary may be how they top last year. They went into the season as underdogs after losing some big-name veterans and struggled through an ownership soap opera that threatened to derail the franchise but put up the best record in the league and had the National Lacrosse League’s MVP and Rookie of the Year. The obvious answer would be to continue their success into the playoffs. They’re the only team to have double-digit wins each of the past three seasons, but only the first of those years resulted in a Champions Cup. To improve on 2011, the 2012 Riggers need to wrest the West from Washington.
2011: 11-5, lost in West Division final
Top 3 returning scorers: Dane Dobbie (34-41-75), Jeff Shattler (29-46-75), Scott Ranger (29-32-61)
League leaders: Kaleb Toth, power play assists (21); Jeff Shattler and Curtis Dickson, short-handed goals (4), Geoff Snider, penalty minutes (74); Mike Poulin, wins (11) and minutes played (957:27)
Key Additions: F Shawn Evans, T Travis Cornwall, G Nick Rose
Key Departures: None
Outlook: Two things will be working against them this year: almost every team should be better in 2012 and they’re not going to surprise anyone this year. But the Roughnecks are going to be really good again and are hungry to take the next step.
It’s a common misconception that in the absence of Josh Sanderson and Tracey Kelusky, a bunch of Roughnecks stepped up and had career years last season. That’s simply not the case. Jeff Shattler did make a huge leap on offense, but of course that was largely due to playing more in the offensive end. He was still a force all over the floor, he just spent more time in the O zone and that led to the uber-talented left scoring a ton of points. Curtis Dickson had a career year by default, being a rookie, but there’s no reason to think he can’t replicate what he did in 2011, if not improve on it. Dane Dobbie, Scott Ranger and Kaleb Toth didn’t do anything far beyond what they’ve shown before that they can do, Daryl Veltman had an off year and Cory Conway continues to improve. All those guys return and are joined by the steal of the 2011 NLL Entry Draft. Calgary got Shawn Evans PLUS a 2012 first-rounder in exchange for the fifth pick, which Rochester used to select Johnny Powless. The offense should be better than ever.
At the back end, the Roughnecks continue to be anchored by Andrew McBride, Mike Carnegie, Dan MacRae and Jon Harnett. Curtis Manning was only available for two games last year and we’ll have to wait and see how many he can make this season, but he’s a tremendous addition when he’s there. The defense is athletic and versatile and nobody’s over 30. In fact, Toth is the only player on the roster born before 1981, which means this team should be good for a long time. They’ll still start with possession after most goal, as Geoff Snider was edged by his brother Bob for the best faceoff winning percentage in the league but looked better than ever at the dot in the summer.
Peter McFetridge is an emerging force in the transition game and the Roughnecks believe first-round draft pick Travis Cornwall can fill the role Shattler has provided, playing solid defense, getting loose balls and getting up the floor with the skill to finish. The question is how effective he’ll be this year. Cornwall did not show well at this year’s Minto Cup. He’s clearly a terrific prospect but expecting him to fill Shattler’s shoes right away is asking a lot of a rookie. Regardless of Cornwall’s first-year impact, Nolan Heavenor should provide more than he did last year and Snider is always a factor in transition.
Mike Poulin was very solid last year and should be even better with a season as a full-time starter under his belt, but if he falters, Calgary can now feel confident with Nick Rose behind him. Great goaltending will be a key in the playoffs, because Tyler Richards just keeps getting better for the Stealth and Edmonton looks like they’ve found their keeper of the future (and the present) in Aaron Bold.
There’s no question the Roughnecks are once again legit title contenders. They’ve shown they can do it over the regular season. Now they want to go back to the future and, just like in 2009, finish the season raising the Champions Cup.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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