May 27, 2014

Calgary Defense Steps Up at Key Time

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Assistant coach Bruce Codd and the Calgary Bench take in the scene at Saturday's NLL Finals Game 1, which the Roughnecks won 10-7 over Rochester. (Brad Watson)

When talk rolled around to assessing team defenses during the regular season, it was all Edmonton this and Edmonton that, or Rochester this and Rochester that. Calgary was so far down on the goals-against chart that it rarely got a mention.

Now that the Roughnecks are one win away from hoisting the Champion's Cup, however, captain Andrew McBride and the rest of the back-end boys deserve accolades for their stellar playoff performances, although it's not as if they've craved the attention that has been going to Dane Dobbie, Curtis Dickson, Shawn Evans and the rest of the offensive kingpins who've been hogging the headlines.

''Absolutely not,'' replies assistant coach Bruce Codd when asked if his D men were moping through their winter of being ignored. ''We didn't always worry about the goals-against average. We focused on a game-by-game basis and the need to always get one more goal than the opposition.''

They got three more than the opposition last Saturday night, winning Game 1 of the NLL final 10-7, and they can win the franchise's third title if they beat the Knighthawks in Game 2 in Rochester this Saturday night. If they succeed, McBride, 31, will be the man accepting the trophy from commissioner George Daniel. He's been with the team since its inception. He lives and breathes lacrosse, conducting weekday instructional clinics and constantly serving as a goodwill ambassador in Alberta for the sport that got into his blood growing up in British Columbia and never left.

''Andrew is our leader,'' says Codd. ''He's such a positive guy, and a guy who lays it on the line every night. He gives us everything he has, and more, some nights. He's the elder statesman on the back end with two Champion's Cup wins (2004 and 2009) to his credit. He's the cagey old vet on the back end.''

Another standout defenseman for Calgary is Mike Carnegie. It is hard to believe watching the seven-year vet from London, Ontario, play that he was never drafted by an NLL team.

''I'm sure there's a lot of teams that look back and say, 'I wish we'd drafted him,''' says Codd. ''He was an offensive player in junior but now he's a top defender. He gets the tough checks every single game. He picks up the other team's premier player.''

Carnegie, 30, helped Canada win the world indoor championship in 2011 in Prague. He works weekdays as a survey analyst, which includes taking layouts of future subdivisions and locating where infrastructure should be placed. He's known for his charitable endeavors including a jaunt to Uganda to help build a school.

Curtis Manning, 27, in his fifth year with the Roughnecks, is a unique individual. Besides playing pro lacrosse, he's finishing his University of British Columbia medical studies and soon will move to Calgary to take up residency as a doctor at a new hospital in Calgary. At six-foot-four, he's the tallest defenseman with the Roughnecks. He might also be the smartest.

''His intelligence off the floor translates onto the floor,'' says Codd. ''He's a big strong guy and he's very athletic, very physical on the floor. He'd be the kind of guy I wouldn't want to play against.''

Manning also has worn Canada's colors internationally.

Peter McFetridge, who is just an inch shorter than Manning and who is another West Coast member of the Roughnecks, missed the first eight weeks of the schedule after being injured in a pre-season game.

''He had a ruptured ulcer but he's been back for a while now since his surgery,'' says Codd. ''Peter is an energy guy, a big strong guy.''

He's 28 and in his seventh NLL season. Outside lacrosse, he's been a bartender and has been adding to his educational credits. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the team GAA went down after McFetridge returned to the lineup. He wears 80 on his back in honor of a grandfather who passed away at age 80.

Two of the most ferocious checkers on Calgary's back end are brothers Jon Harnett, turning 26 on Wednesday, and Greg Harnett, 23, who grew up with lacrosse sticks in their hands in Orangeville, Ontario, where they were Northmen teammates winning Canadian junior championships in 2008 and 2009. More recently, they've been taking university courses as well as suiting up for the 'Necks.

''Jon is a real student of the game,'' says Codd. ''He thinks the game at a very high level. He understands other teams' and players' tendencies. He prepares very well. He's another guy that will do anything it takes to win. He really wants to win. If you look at his track record, it kind of speaks to that.''

His brother plays with similar grit.

''Greg is a warrior. He'd do anything for any one of his teammates. He's not afraid to stick his nose in there. If it means him taking a whack to get a loose ball, he'll take it. He has a great compete level.''

Dan MacRae is in his fourth NLL season but plays as if he's been around for a decade. Outside lacrosse, he's been a warehouse manager.

''He's had a great year,'' says Codd. ''He's chipped in a lot in a transition role, too. He eats up a lot of minutes and gets a lot of tough checks. He really came into his own this year. He goes about his business and plays hard.''

MacRae, 25, from Oakville, Ontario, is also a good penalty killer and is one of the defensemen sent out in the dying minutes when games are on the line.

With vet Geoff Snider out since early May with a knee injury, the coaches have relied on rookie Garrett McIntosh, 23, and third-year man Travis Cornwall, 24, to pick up the slack on defense.

''You never know what you're going to get in the third round,'' Codd says of McIntosh's 2013 entry draft status. ''You hope you get a guy who can step in and play 10 or 11 games, but Mac has played every single game for us. He's an energy guy. He's a big strong guy who works really hard. He's been a nice surprise for us.''

McIntosh has been taking most of the faceoffs in Snider's absence. The two British Columbia-trained players have added some muscle. The 6-3 McIntosh is an account manager for Xerox and the 6-2 Cornwall has been helping McBride and Snider with youth lacrosse clinics while planning to go to teachers' college.

''Travis is another guy who has come into his own this year,'' says Codd. ''He's been in a transitional role throughout his career. He's an athletic player who competes hard. He was almost too nice his first year and now he's got grittier. He's developed more of a mean streak. He's a very intelligent player.''

(Trivia: McIntosh and Cornwall were on the 2010 Coquitlam, British Columbia, team that won the Canadian junior championship, denying Greg Harnett a Minto Cup threepeat with the Northmen.)

The only Calgary defensemen with NCAA credentials are MacRae, who attended Rochester Institute of Technology, and McIntosh, who went to Drexel.

The new and improved Calgary defense continues to evolve.

''Our system has been the same most of the season although we've made some tweaks along the way,'' says Codd. ''Towards end of year we got better. We still think we can play better, too. Guys are believing in one another and supporting one another. That's probably the reason for the improved play.''

So, that's the rundown on a defense corps that deserves some recognition, as does goaltender Mike Poulin, 28, from Kitchener, Ontario, whose spring heroics have helped boost the entire team's confidence.

''Mike has worked really hard on a lot of things in his game,'' says Codd. ''A lot of it is studying shooters and preparing each week for who we play.

''Mike has been dialed in, especially in the playoffs. He seems to be seeing the ball well. Part of that is his work ethic, and his confidence has been building with some good games. His improved played is also the result of some of the improvement in overall team defensive play.''

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