April 2, 2009

NLL Playoff-Bound Riggers Pack Power-Play Punch

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Calgary has stepped away from the pack, becoming the first National Lacrosse League team to clinch a playoff berth and setting the tone for excellence in the West Division with a 9-3 record, 2.5 games ahead of Portland.

Underscoring the team's talent and teamwork is its league-leading power play, which converted five of 10 chances in a 13-10 come-from-behind victory at Minnesota last Saturday that sewed up the postseason placement.

The unit, which has scored 55 power-play goals and converts at a 62.5-percent rate, usually includes Josh Sanderson, Tracey Kelusky, Kaleb Toth, Dane Dobbie and Curt Malawsky.

Sanderson, a left-hander, and Kelusky, a right-hander, represent two of the NLL's best set-up men, with Sanderson racking up 52 assists and team captain Kelusky producing 46. Malawsky is terrific from the crease, and Toth and Dobbie, a left-hander, can score from the perimeter and the inside.

"It is quick ball movement, and we have guys who can shoot inside well, like Curt," Sanderson said. "And we're versatile. Dane can play crease or shooter, same as myself, Tracey and Kaleb. We can all move around. The only one who stays in one place is Curt."

Incredibly, Calgary boasts four players with double figures in power-play goals, led by Dobbie with 14. Toth has 13, followed by Malawsky (12) and Sanderson (11).

Dobbie, a 22-year-old from Flora, British Columbia, leads the team with 34 goals and an impressive .231 shooting percentage, one season after breaking into the league with a .061 mark and just two goals in five appearances.

"He has a good set of hands and can score inside or outside," said Sanderson. "He has been great for us."

While Dobbie buried seven goals and had two assists in the weekend split, including a 12-10 loss to Toronto, Toth scored seven goals with eight assists.

Toth, a 31-year-old playing for his hometown team, scored five against Toronto and netted two fourth-quarter goals in the rally over the Swarm. His productive weekend boosted his goal total to 29, second-best on the team, along with 35 assists.

Toth's .218 shooting percentage is markedly improved over last season's .161.

"To be honest, it was just good luck," Toth said Tuesday. "A couple times shooting on Bobby [Watson], he was screened or he didn't see it. He didn't seem to move on them. I don't know if he thought I was going to fake again. Sometimes the ball goes in for you; sometimes it doesn't. I'm thankful that it did."

Against Minnesota, Toth scored shorthanded when Swarm goaltender Nick Patterson came out of the cage to check him.

"I saw him coming, and I moved and put it in an empty net," Toth said.

The play started with an outlet pass from Calgary goaltender Matt King to defender Bruce Codd to Toth. It was one of four assists in the game for King, who also made 33 saves, one night after being pulled against Toronto for allowing eight goals on 23 shots.

Pat Campbell, King's replacement, kept the Riggers in the game against the Rock.

Depth in net has been one of the keys for coach Troy Cordingley's team. King ranks second in the NLL with a 10.19 goals against average, and Campbell is No. 4 at 10.46.

"They are a big part of our success," Sanderson said. "Throughout the team, our work ethic has been real good. But we have to realize that other teams are hungry. We have to pick up the intensity a bit."

While the rest of the league strives to make the postseason, the Roughnecks are on to the next milestone.

"We're definitely happy we clinched, but we're trying not to look past anyone," Toth said. "We're going for the one-game-at-a time kind of thing. Against Toronto, we couldn't match their intensity. The game against Minnesota, we had to redeem ourselves and play better. In this league, you can't take nights off. Thankfully, Toronto is not in our division."

Home-floor advantage in the playoffs is next on the Riggers' agenda.

"We want to bring in a little extra revenue for our ownership group," Toth said.

Calgary hosts Rochester on Saturday, followed by a game against its Alberta rival, Edmonton, and two contests against Portland.

"We haven't locked up first place yet, that's one of our goals, and we haven't even had a chance to play Portland yet," Toth said. "Last year in the playoffs, they took it to us and went on to the championship game. We want a little revenge on them for that, so we're looking forward to those games.

"But we can't look past Rochester. They managed to move into a playoff spot. They are playing good and we have to play well against them."

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