The Calgary Roughnecks finished the 2013 regular season with a West Division-best 9-7 record but were unable to convert that success into the franchise's third trip to the Champion's Cup.
Going into 2014, the team is largely intact, but they've added some young, hungry kids through the draft.
Gone is veteran transition Nolan Heavenor, who decided to retire after eight seasons in the NLL. Young forwards Jackson Decker and Joe Resetarits were both traded on draft day for draft picks.
Three other members of last year's roster are missing—at least for the start of the season—as a result of injuries.
Scott Ranger, who was fifth on the team with 53 points last year, is dealing with a broken jaw and is a question mark to suit up at all this year. Transitions Travis Cornwall and Peter McFetridge are also starting the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, although they were both in attendance at training camp.
Filling the gaps are first-round pick Tor Reinholdt and second-round picks Karsen Leung and Garrett McIntosh.
Reinholdt and Leung bolster the transition game, which is becoming increasingly important in the NLL as rosters have been reduced this year, making it more and more critical that teams have guys who can play effective minutes on both ends of the floor.
McIntosh adds depth on defense. Last year, the Roughnecks gave up a league-high 211 goals against, so stabilizing this unit was also a priority.
Even without Ranger, the offense should still be one of the best. In 2013, they scored a league-best 222 goals and they enter 2014 with what is still probably the deepest, most dangerous group in the NLL.
Shawn Evans is coming off a career year where he led the league in points, with 112, and won the MVP award. Evans is feisty, fearless and creates opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Alongside him on the right is sniper Curtis Dickson, who was named the top player in the league by USBoxla. Dickson scored 42 goals last year, the second-most in the NLL, and continues to earn the nickname "Superman" game after game.
On the left side, former MVP Jeff Shattler (33 G, 74 PTS), Dane Dobbie (40 G, 72 PTS) and Daryl Veltman (13 G, 43 PTS) make it impossible for any defense to key in on Evans or Dickson. They have five players who can light it up on any given night, giving opposition defenses fits.
Geoff Snider is a leader on transition. He is arguably the finest faceoff man the NLL has ever seen, with a career 75.2 percent success rate in the center circle. He is also a maximum-effort player who can score, plays aggressive defense and who is willing to trade punches with anyone in the league.
Team captain Andrew McBride (47 loose balls, 18 forced turnovers) leads a defensive squad that plays well as a unit, without any real superstars. Mike Carnegie (45 LBs, 22 FTs) and brother Scott (57 LBs, 26 FTs), Curtis Manning (52 LBs), Dan McRae (54 LBs), Jon Harnett (48 LBs) and brother Greg (48 LBs) all play quality minutes on the back end.
After winning the Goaltender of the Year award in 2012, Mike Poulin had a much less impressive season in 2013, posting a 12.82 goals-against average, the second-worst among regulars in the NLL.
A big part of this, however, was due to team discipline issues which put the Roughnecks on the penalty kill 107 times, more than any other team in the league. The result was 59 power-play goals against, 28 percent of all the goals the Roughnecks gave up on the year.
If Calgary can do a better job of staying out of the sin bin in 2014, Poulin's numbers should bounce back, as he continues to be capable of making all the routine saves and more than a few highlight-reel stops as well.
With Ranger out of the offensive equation, the Roughnecks will have to prove they can still score at an elite level while also avoiding digging themselves a hole by taking bad penalties. Encouragingly, they went 3-0 in their preseason scrimmages, so they could be back on track for another deep playoff run.
The Roughnecks open their 2014 season on Friday, Jan. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET when they visit the Toronto Rock.
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