We’re used to seeing the Calgary Roughnecks at or near the top. What we were not used to was seeing the Calgary defense at the top of the list for goals allowed. Yet that’s where the Riggers ended up, the 211 goals surrendered last winter tying the Buffalo Bandits for most in the National Lacrosse League. And although the Roughnecks were still able to keep their string of West Division titles alive at 3 straight, it was a rocky ride for the Riggers. The offense, as usual, was there. But it was the defense, combined with some problems on special teams, that gave Calgary the most fits and the element of surprise here is that the defensive personnel was much the same as the unit that’s enjoyed great success in seasons past. Whether the letdown was just a defensive hiccup for 1 season remains to be seen, but whatever went down in 2013 contributed to yet another disappointing ending for Calgary as it came up just short of championship aspirations, and expectations.
Not since 2008 had the Calgary Roughnecks got out of the gate at 0-2, but that’s the way last season started for the Riggers. Making it even more alarming was both games were at home, but a tidy 4-game win streak and winning 5 of their next 6 games put worries to rest as the high-powered offense kicked into gear. Four times in that 8-game stretch, the Riggers scored 16 or more goals but after that, defensive problems emerged. In each of their remaining 8 games, Calgary allowed double-figures in goals, including 15 or more in 4 of those games. It added up to a 4-4 record in the final half of the season and a stretch of inconsistency that left you wondering which team was going to show up each weekend. It didn’t keep the Riggers from winning their 3rd straight West Division title, even though they did it with a 9-7 record, their worst regular-season showing since going 9-7 in 2008. And even though Calgary managed to get past the first round of the playoffs, the team built to win championships fell short once again with a loss to Washington in the West final.
It’s one thing to know you can outscore the opposition, but it’s quite another to know that you have to score more. That’s the sort of hole the inconsistent defense in Calgary put the offense into and fortunately for the Riggers, the offensive stable of Shawn Evans, Jeff Shattler, Curtis Dickson (NLL-best 5 game-winning goals) and Dane Dobbie was very able to do just that. Powered by the MVP season of Evans (32 goals, 80 assist for 112 points), the Riggers scored a league-high 222 goals, the fourth straight season they’ve finished first or second in goals-scored. And beyond that balanced group of 5, Calgary got some solid support behind that from the likes of Scott Ranger, Daryl Veltman and Geoff Snider, whose 17 goals were his highest total for a season since scoring 19 in 2010.
Defence and Goaltending
For years, Calgary has been known for its athletic and quick defense. Stingy on the shutdown and quick on the transition. The expectations for 2013 were much the same considering most of the personnel was the same, but something happened. For the first time since 2007, the Roughnecks gave up more than 200 goals. And the 211 goals surrendered was the most in franchise history since the expansion team of 2002 gave up 264. So what gives? A lot of that had to do with discipline and special teams. Coach Curt Malawsky made no secret of his displeasure with the lack of defensive discipline early in the season and the team never really did get a handle on it. Calgary allowed a league-high 59 power play goals and the 12 short-handed goals allowed were second-most in the NLL. That puts an awful lot of pressure on anyone in goal and that happened to be Mike Poulin. His 12.70 goals-against average ranked next-to-last among primary goalies in the NLL and his save percentage of .742 didn’t rank much better. So was Poulin off his game or were the runners in front of him letting him down? Probably a bit of both and Calgary’s inconsistency in the back end was one of the bigger surprises league-wide for 2013, considering how sturdy that unit’s been in the past.
The glaring weakness here for Calgary was already touched upon with the struggles of the downers and the transition defense that gave up so many short-handed goals. Stats for the power play and penalty kills are usually subjective because going by percentages can be open to interpretation. But when a penalty killing unit faces a league-high 107 opportunities, the odds are not going to favor that unit. Oddly, the Roughnecks really struggled with the transition defense on the road. Of the 12 shorties allowed all season, just 1 was scored against them at home. On the flip side, the power play really clicked to the tune of a league-best 56 power-play goals. The production was pretty much evenly split with 26 at home and 30 on the road, and Dickson led the NLL with 6 shorties. In scoring short-handed, Calgary came in with a respectable 12 to rank 3rd overall but in an odd twist, just 1 of those shorties came at home. It’s tempting to label the short-handed stats as inconsistent, but they’re too weird for that and can be chalked up to “just one of those things.” It’s the discipline on defense and big workload placed on the downers that really hurt Calgary in 2013.
As far as roster activity goes, it was pretty quiet in Calgary. The biggest move, of course, was the retirement of Kaleb Toth before the season and the team offered him an emotional and honorable sendoff on March 2. Lots of draft picks and toeing-the-line free agents went back and forth from the practice roster to being released, but Calgary brass can hardly be blamed for not moving much. There’s a boatload of talent in Calgary and given the success these guys have had in recent seasons, there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t contend for a Champion’s Cup.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at email@example.com or go to RochesterSports.com.
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