April 10, 2012

Roughnecks Gearing Up For Postseason

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Team captain Andrew McBride said Calgary has "the best offense in the league because we've got a lot of unselfish guys who can score."
© Brad Watson/Roughnecks

Teams that win championships, regardless of the sport, constantly strive to improve. It doesn't matter how good they are, they take the attitude that they need to be better.

The Calgary Roughnecks (11-3), first overall in the National Lacrosse League standings, fit this description.

After defeating the Rochester Knighthawks, 15-14 last Friday night, they weren't boasting about their sixth straight win. No, they were trying to figure out why they blew an 11-4 lead before escaping with that win.

''We had a great start to the game,'' says captain Andrew McBride. ''We were really bearing down and doing all the little things we had to do. Then Rochester clawed its way back into the game and we hung on at the end.

''It's something we've talked about all year -- needing to get that killer instinct. It's important, especially now that we're heading into the playoffs. You've got to bear down and finish teams off. It's something we've had trouble with over the last couple of years.''

There's been little trouble at all with the offense. This team has a multitude of weapons. Dane Dobbie, Daryl Veltman, Scott Ranger, Shawn Evans, 2011 rookie of the year Curtis Dickson and 2011 league MVP Jeff Shattler have scored 151 goals.

''We have the best offense in the league because we've got a lot of unselfish guys who can score,'' says McBride. ''It gives other teams fits. They can't key on shutting down just one or two guys.''

The insertion of Evans this season has been huge. He has a team-best 67 points including 26 goals.

''Shawnie is a champion and a warrior,'' says McBride. ''He brings a winning attitude.

''He's won at all levels. He's the kind of guy that when you need a big play to happen he makes it happen. That was key, bringing him on board. He has that championship pedigree and mentality.''

Shattler, given greater freedom on offense this year, has scored 27 goals.

''The good thing about Shats is that he can play any position,'' says McBride. ''The sign of an MVP is making guys around you better and he does that.

''He contributes in all facets of the game. He's one of the most dynamic players in the league and draws other teams' top checkers. He continues to be a key cog in the wheel for us.''

The defense is strong, too, and the captain offers up Curtis Manning and Peter McFetridge for special mention.

''Curtis has played fantastic,'' says McBride. ''He's really transitioned the ball well. Peter has, too.

''Peter is one of the best athletes in the NLL and he's gaining confidence with every game. He'll fight and he'll run the ball up the floor. Those two guys are having exceptional years.''

Calgary hasn't lost a game since March 3 when it dropped a 15-11 home decision to Minnesota. It's only other losses were one-goal decisions that went to Colorado and Toronto.

The Roughnecks are 5-3 at home and 6-0 on the road. They finish the regular season with games in Rochester this Saturday and in Edmonton on April 21.

The purchase of the team by the NHL's Calgary Flames has expanded marketing opportunities but, other than that, little has changed since Brad Banister owned and managed the 'Necks.

''Brad Banister was great at listening to the players and the Flames have also kept everyone in the loop,'' says McBride. ''They make sure everyone feels a part of the team, which makes for the best camaraderie.''

The 10,000 attendance figure has been hard to surpass. The 9,800 for the win over Rochester was the best crowd this season, but numbers should swell come playoff time. The team has already clinched a home game the May 5 weekend.

''Every game so far we've had a few more fans,'' says McBride. ''Winning at home and getting the exposure that comes with that helps. Hopefully we can get 12,000 to 15,000 next month. People really want to support a winner. It spreads like wildfire. The Flames and the (WHL) Hitmen are finished their hockey seasons now so we're the only game in town.''

There were nine men from the 2009 championship team in the lineup last Friday night: McBride, Dobbie, Ranger, Shattler, Kaleb Toth, Mike Carnegie, Scott Carnegie, Nolan Heavenor and Mike Kilby. A lot of new faces have come on board since '09.

The coaching staff is different, too, with '09 assistant Dave Pym now head coach, '09 forward Curt Malawsky now offense coach and former Colorado head coach Bob McMahon now defense coach.

Trades in 2010 by Banister reshaped the roster:

  • Goaltender Mike Poulin was acquired from Boston, where he was the backup to Anthony Cosmo, for a first-round 2011 draft pick. Poulin has become an all-star and Boston folded before using the pick.

  • Daryl Veltman, Jon Harnett, Kyle Ross and the third pick in the 2010 draft were acquired from Boston for Josh Sanderson and the seventh pick in the 2010 draft. The No. 3 pick turned out to be Curtis Dickson. Ross was lost to Toronto via an unmatched offer sheet but the others remain with the Roughnecks.

  • Faceoff specialist Geoff Snider was added when Calgary got him for the eighth spot in the dispersal draft of players from the defunct Orlando Titans.
  • A first-round draft pick was acquired from Buffalo for Tracey Kelusky. The pick was flipped to Rochester during the entry draft last September for Shawn Evans.

So, Banister's impact is still being felt in a big way.

''Absolutely,'' says McBride. ''He stalked the cupboard for a long time to come.

''Brad never got enough credit for it. He drafted some fantastic players, too. He covered all the bases from goaltender on out. He not only brought in talented players but players who really get along well. Being able to get character guys is important and Brad did a phenomenal job with that. The cupboard is stalked for a very long time here.''

The hottest team in the NLL might be just warming up.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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