The Calgary Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush played to a 12-12 tie during an exhibition scrimmage Sunday morning in Calgary's Saddledome. It was the last chance for both teams to assess their prospective players prior to making their final preseason cuts, due on December 22.
What did the results indicate for both teams as they make their final preparations for the start of the National Lacrosse League season in January?
For the Rush, which finished in the NLL West's cellar last year, it is a good sign. After a summer that saw a major shakeup in personnel, the Rush have now beaten the defending league champions in a preseason scrimmage (11-4 over the Toronto Rock on Dec. 4) and tied the team that had the NLL's best record last year (Calgary was 11-5).
Most particularly, their goaltending has improved, making some key saves along the way, especially in the late stages. Kevin Croswell and Aaron Bold give Edmonton a couple solid options between the pipes. As the Rush gave up the most goals in the NLL last year, this will be key to their moving up in the standings.
Their scoring has also improved, picking up 23 goals in their two scrimmages. Shawn Williams, an NLL top-10 scorer acquired from Rochester in the off-season, picked up a hat trick in what is likely to be a sign of things to come.
Other contributions were balanced up and down the roster, indicating that the Rush now have a number of offensive weapons other teams will have to worry about.
On the Calgary side, the Roughnecks also emerge from the preseason undefeated, having beaten the Colorado Mammoth 12-10 on Dec. 11, and earning a tie on Sunday. Although there were plenty of pluses, there were also some possible concerns.
Extremely encouraging on Sunday was the play of Scott Ranger, who tallied six goals in the game. When Ranger is feeling it, he is a force to be reckoned with. Having another hot hand to mix in with the scoring prowess of 2011 NLL MVP Jeff Shattler, hard-working sniper Dane Dobbie, and Shawn Evans (acquired in a trade with Rochester) makes the Roughnecks very tough to defend.
Add into the mix Daryl Veltman, who has picked up five goals in the two scrimmages, and Geoff McNulty, who was picked up in the dispersal draft from the Boston Blazers and scored in both scrimmages, and this team looks to be a major force in the offensive zone.
Who Will Win the Battle of Alberta in 2012?
Nolan Heavenor did a solid job taking faceoffs in the Sunday scrimmage, boding well for his ability to spell Geoff Snider in that role over the course of the season (Snider did not dress for the scrimmage and saw limited involvement in practice on Saturday).
The big concern for Calgary looks to be on special teams, where they surrendered multiple goals on Sunday and, in their previous scrimmage against Colorado, gave up eight of their 10 total goals on the night while short-handed.
Taking bad penalties also seems to be a problem that will need to be addressed—curing that issue should also help the special teams play by reducing the number of times they have to step up.
Overall, it looks to be interesting times for both squads going into the season with improvements in depth on both sides. This should make for an exciting Battle of Alberta, with Calgary and Edmonton facing each other four times over the course of the upcoming season.
The Roughnecks' season opens in Toronto on January 8 as they take on the Rock. The Rush open up at home on January 20 against Colorado.