NLL Preview: Calgary Roughnecks Looking for Rare Championship Encore

PHOTO BY CANDICE WARD/NLL

Dane Dobbie earned NLL Finals MVP honors last season.


The countdown to the NLL season has reached its end, as the season kicks off tonight. Check back to uslaxmagazine.com as we roll out our season preview — including Jack Goods’ predictions, team-by-team capsules and additional features. Next is a look at the Calgary Roughnecks.

Calgary Roughnecks

Head coach: Curt Malawsky (eighth season)
2018-19 record: 10-8 (third in West Division)
Playoff finish: Won NLL Finals

Overview

The Roughnecks weren’t the obvious pick for the NLL Cup entering the playoffs, but no one on the team cared. Dane Dobbie averaged five points per game in the postseason and Christian del Bianco put up a playoff-leading .838 save percentage as the Roughnecks marched to their third title in franchise history. They knocked off the Bandits in two games in the NLL Finals in an upset of the playoff favorites.

Now it’s time for the encore, with much of the roster still intact. Repeating is always a difficult task, with the last three titles going to new champions. But we’ve seen it done before, with Rochester winning three straight from 2012 to 2014 and the Rush taking home hardware in 2015 and 2016.

What’s new

A trio of rookies are looking to make an impact: defenseman Liam LeClair and forwards Marshall King and Haiden Dickson. The Roughnecks snagged LeClair and Dickson back-to-back with pick Nos. 7 and 8 in the draft before selecting King in the second round.

The new championship banner will be raised to the rafters on Dec. 21 prior to the team’s home opener against the Colorado Mammoth.

What’s gone

There will be no more questions about Wesley Berg, who sat out the entire 2019 season due to a contract dispute. The Roughnecks shipped the forward south to San Diego as part of a three-team deal. Shane Simpson, taken in the expansion draft by Rochester, also returned to Calgary in the exchange.

Speaking of the expansion draft, Calgary lost its captain, Dan MacRae, to the Riptide. Dobbie will take over captain duties, the team announced earlier this month.

The Seals signed Mark Carnegie away in free agency. The offense also lost its second and third-leading scorers, Rhys Duch and Riley Loewen.







What’s the same

The offense is still led by the top pair of Dobbie and Curtis Dickson, who combined for 196 points last season. They’re joined by Jesse King, who was limited by injury last year, and a handful of other returnees.

LeClair is the only one new defender or transition player on the team, so there’s serious continuity on that side. Zach Currier is still a stellar transition threat, putting up nearly identical numbers in his first two years. Del Bianco looked across the field during the championship series and saw league legend Matt Vinc, but the stellar young keeper didn’t flinch. He still looks like the NLL’s top goalie of the future.

What could they use

With losing Duch, the third-highest returning scorer notched 46 points last season. A healthy King will help, but Calgary probably needs one of the rookies or Dan Taylor, Tyler Pace or Ryan Martel to step up, too.

Biggest question

Was last season a flash in the pan? There’s certainly plenty of talent on this squad, but the West Division is deep and the difference between the top few squads can be slight. You could make a case for Saskatchewan, Calgary and San Diego to finish in any order. With the change in playoff format this season, there should be a can’t-miss fight for the postseason in the West.

MVP Watch

Dane Dobbie

Dobbie won his first MVP award last season after leading the league with 115 points. The total blew by his previous career-high of 90. He also earned a sweep by taking home NLL Finals MVP honors with a 13-point performance.

Verdict

The Roughnecks have the roster needed to make another run for a title, but don’t be surprised if one of the other West powers gives them a run for their money. Predicting that division is nearly impossible.

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