NLL Preview: Calgary Roughnecks

Rookies Shane Simpson, Eli Salama, Reece Callies of the Calgary Roughnecks. (Photo credit: Cliff McCaig)

On paper, it’s hard not to like the 2018/2019 edition of the Calgary Roughnecks. General Manager Mike Board and Head Coach Curt Malawsky have done a solid job putting together and developing an exciting, competitive lacrosse team. Since laying the groundwork in 2015 with draft picks Wes Berg, Christian Del Bianco and Tyson Bell, the Roughnecks have continued to build their roster with young, athletic talent. If the last half of the 2018 season is any indication, don’t be surprised to see Calgary put together their first winning season since 2014.

Headlining the offseason were the acquisitions of Rhys Duch, Jesse King and Dan Taylor. A healthy Rhys Duch showed that he can still get it done, scoring five goals in a preseason tilt against Saskatchewan. Jesse King will add an interesting dimension on the left side. A gifted playmaker that can also take it to the net, King has averaged over four points per game. Lastly, the hometown kid, Dan Taylor, will look to carve out a role on the left side. Taylor is a big body with a nice set of hands. The trio of forwards join an already talented offensive group that put up 227 goals last year. Led by Dane Dobbie, Curtis Dickson, and Wes Berg, the Roughnecks possess a roster capable of putting up big numbers on the opposition. Rounding out the forward group is sixth year leftie Riley Loewen and righties Tyler Pace and Chris Boushy. For those unfamiliar with Boushy, he was drafted 31stoverall by the Saskatchewan Rush in 2017. The 21-year-old played Junior A with the Burlington Chiefs last season and amassed 84 points in 18 regular season games.

Calgary Roughnecks’ Mitch Wilde. (Photo credit: Cliff McCaig)

However, there are going to be some challenges that face this group, especially early on. Both Dickson and Berg missed training camp because of contract disputes. Combined with the new players and a shortened pre-season, Roughnecks’ fans will need patience while this group learns the offensive system and builds chemistry together. Don’t be surprised to see something similar to last season, when the offense struggled early but got better each week and eventually scored double digits in the final nine games of the 2018 season.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this Roughnecks’ team is their explosive transition game and it all starts between the pipes with Christian Del Bianco. The MVP of the Roughnecks last season, Del Bianco is the catalyst in transition with his exceptional agility and ability to move the ball quickly and accurately. The Roughnecks have done an excellent job of building around Del Bianco with the likes of rookie phenome Zach Currier, speedster Tyson Bell and highlight machine Mitch Wilde. This added dimension helps the Roughnecks in many ways. With the ability to score in transition, it’ll help take the pressure off the offensive unit as they find their rhythm. Secondly, it forces the opposition to game plan around their capabilities and think twice where they take their shots from. Any mistake and this unit will make you pay.

Christian Del Bianco. (Photo credit: Cliff McCaig)

On the back end, Calgary used their first three picks in the 2018 NLL Draft to select defenders Shane Simpson, Eli Salama and Reece Callies. Defense has been a question mark in recent years with Calgary, but defensive coordinator Rob Williams has this group on an upward trajectory. Last year, the defense allowed 211 goals – their best total since 2012. To put it in perspective, the all-world Rush defense allowed 196 goals, which is a difference of 15 goals between the two clubs. Captain Dan MacRae, Mike Carnegie and Greg Harnett are the battle-tested veterans that Calgary will lean on this season. Face-off ace Tyler Burton as well as Tyson Bell, Chad Cummings, Zach Currier and Anthony Kalinich are the other defenders on the Roughnecks roster.

As Calgary focuses all their efforts on what they’ve got in their locker room, we will eventually see if they have what it takes to compete against the class of the NLL – the Saskatchewan Rush. The two Western Conference clubs are scheduled to face each other three times this regular season, so we’ll soon see if the Roughnecks on paper are as good as the team that takes the floor this season.