It was more of the same for the Calgary Roughnecks in 2012 and that’s good, and bad. Depending on your perspective, of course. Calgary’s 12-4 record gave it the best record in the NLL for the third time in 4 seasons. But for the third time since winning the Champion’s Cup in 2009, the Riggers’ work in the regular season was capped by a disappointing loss in the playoffs. This year, it was a first-round exit for Calgary and it cost coach Dave Pym his job. There’s no doubt the Roughnecks were the best team in the NLL through the season and again, that’s nothing new. The team’s got an NLL-most 45 wins over the last 4 seasons. That kind of success builds lofty expectations and when they’re not met, for whatever reason, disappointment reigns supreme and that’s where Calgary found itself when 2012 was done.
The 5-2 start to the season could just have easily have been a 7-0 start if not for a pair of overtime losses to Colorado and Toronto, the loss to Toronto being a bit controversial. Be that as it may, the 5-2 start was interesting in that 4 of the 5 wins came on the road and after the March 3 loss to Minnesota dropped the Riggers to 5-3, it meant that all 3 losses in the first half of the season came at home.
But then came 6 straight wins — 4 at home — that arguably is one of the more impressive stretches the league has ever seen. The Roughnecks outscored opponents 89-60 in that 6-game stretch and what stands out is that in 24 combined quarters, the Calgary defense held opponents to 1 or fewer goals in 8 of those quarters. The Riggers were 1-1 in their final 2 games, losing in Rochester and winning in Edmonton as goalie Mike Poulin, a first-team All-Pro, was sidelined with a concussion.
Calgary had 6 players with 20 or more goals, most in the NLL, so it’s really no surprise that the team burned opponents for 216 goals. Only Colorado had more with 217, but the potent offense combined with a suffocating defense made the Riggers the cream of the crop in the NLL.
Consider: Of the 9 teams in the league, just 3 had an average margin of victory in the plus numbers and the Roughnecks at 2.87 were by far the leaders. (Colorado was at 1 and Toronto was at .125). That’s a testament to the balance on both ends of the floor and it made the offense look even more impressive than it already was. As if the usual suspects — Scott Ranger on the right and Jeff Shattler and Dane Dobbie on the left – weren’t enough, Calgary got some very nice bonuses.
Lefty Daryl Veltman rebounded nicely with 62 points (20-42) after an off-year (42 points) in 2011. Second-year man Curtis Dickson continued to ascend as one of the league’s top offensive forces from the right side and newcomer Shawn Evans arrived in Calgary to lead the team in scoring with 79 points (32-47) from the right. To wit, those 6 players combined to score 166 goals, or just 1 fewer than the entire Edmonton Rush team. And that’s after Dobbie missed 3 games with an injury.
Obviously, much more went right than wrong out of the front door for Calgary.
Goals-against is the quickest and easiest manner in which to gauge the effectiveness of a defense. And with just 170 goals allowed, the Roughnecks were best in the league. The unit, full of athleticism and speed, did its best work early in holding opponents to a combined 39 goals in 16 first quarters, which works out to be 2.4 per quarter. And when the offense is scoring an average of 3.4 per first quarter, you can see how valuable quick starts to games can be.
Coach Dave Pym had plenty to work with on the back end with veterans like Mike Kilby, Andrew McBride, Scott and Mike Carnegie and Nolan Heavenor. Younger players like Curtis Manning, Dan MacRae, Peter McFetridge and Travis Cornwall continued to learn the system and depth they added came in handy when injuries hit the unit.
One of the more pleasant surprises was the work of goalie Mike Poulin, who came into his sixth NLL season with plenty of respect. He had played more than 900 minutes in 2011 but he really sparkled in 2012. He finished with career-best numbers in goals-against (10.27) and save percentage (.789) and both of those numbers were tops in the NLL among regular keepers. It landed him a spot as a first-team All-Pro and when he missed the final 2 games of the regular season, the Riggers found they had a very capable backup in rookie Frankie Scigliano.
The system worked well in Calgary last season, staffed with the type of personnel needed to pull it off. Yet for as athletic as the horses in the system are, communication is the key to making it work and the Riggers had far more rewards than losses in the high-pressure system for which they’ve become known.
The power play in Calgary rang it at 50% with 47 goals scored with the man advantage, ranking it third in percentage and fifth in the number of goals scored. That’s pretty good considering the team’s 99 power-play opportunities were more than just 3 other NLL teams.
Man down, it was 2 different stories for the Roughnecks. With a 58% kill rate, they led the league. But they also led the league with 49 power-play goals allowed. That’s explained in the 524 PIM assessed to the Riggers, second-most in the NLL, meaning the penalty-killing unit had plenty of opportunities. That’s the result of the high-pressure defense can fill up the penalty box in a hurry if a team’s not careful. The Roughnecks were no strangers to the box, but the downers were consistently strong in their efforts to minimalize the damage.
The other side of that is Calgary scoring 11 short-handed goals, tied with Edmonton for most in the NLL. And the 6 short-handed goals allowed was tied with Philadelphia for fewest in the NLL.
Fact is, there just wasn’t a lot of need for roster movement as the team remained relatively healthy throughout the season. Of the 23 runners on the final roster, 19 played in 11 or more games and 16 played in 14 or more.
Most of the movement happened in the cage. Calgary signed goalie Matt King in April as insurance behind Scigliano after Poulin’s injury. And in March, goalie Nick Rose, picked up in the Boston Blazers dispersal draft, was dealt to Toronto for the Rock’s first-round pick in the 2014 entry draft.
The challenge for the coaching staff, as with any team, was to find the right combinations and judging by the numbers in the regular season, Dave Pym and his staff did a fine job. But the team’s first-round exit from the playoffs wasn’t enough for the Calgary Flames, new owners of the team, and Pym was dismissed at season’s end to make way for his assistant, Curt Malawsky, to become the team’s sixth head coach.
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