Roughnecks rolling with punches into NLL clash in Colorado

The Calgary Roughnecks were dealt a big blow to begin the National Lacrosse League season.

Two, actually, when it was revealed their two leading scorers — Curtis Dickson and Wes Berg — were locked in contract disputes with the club.

Ouch.

Then, when the team finally took to the floor for the regular schedule Dec. 15, it absorbed another gut-punch by allowing six unanswered goals, including an overtime one, in a season-opening loss to the Vancouver Warriors — some might say because it didn’t have those two offensive talents in their lineup.

Ouch again.

But since then, the Roughnecks have stood tall in the face of potential knockout punches, by delivering a few timely counters.

First, a favourable decision on the road against the Warriors despite being down early in what would eventually be a dominant 14-8 victory on the weekend before Christmas.

And then, a gritty home effort last Friday in a sparkling 9-5 triumph over the San Diego Seals at the Saddledome.

“That’s kind of been our mantra,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky, when asked to weigh in on how his charges have responded since hitting a couple of major speed-bumps in the first half of December.

“The guys are jumping on that and doing the job out there when it’s tough. I like the fact that — after we were up by five goals a few weeks ago and we lost the first game — we played to win (the last two weeks) and we won. We did that in Vancouver, and we did it (last Friday).

“We learned from the mistakes we made two weeks ago, and that’s what the season is all about,” Malawsky continued. “That’s why I’m proud of them.”

And it’s why the Roughnecks are heading into this weekend’s NLL action, which includes a game Sunday against the host Colorado Mammoth (1 p.m.), on top of the West Division with a 2-1 record.

Because of the quirk in the schedule that saw the first two weeks of the regular season postponed because the league and the players’ union were late in coming to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, the Mammoth have played just one game so far this campaign, losing 17-12 to the Seals at Denver’s Pepsi Center.

So the Colorado club is sitting right where the Riggers were three weeks ago, trying to lift itself off the floor after a season-opening home-court loss.

Not that the Roughnecks care about their foe, though.

They’re still working on their own lift-off, trying to push for even more improvement in their fourth game of the schedule.

“I think we’re trying to get better every game, every practice …” said Riggers veteran Dane Dobbie, whose own play has netted him a league-leading 11 goals. “Maybe offensively, we didn’t (play great last Friday), but defensively, we stood strong.

“Just guys pitching in,” Dobbie continued. “All the young guys are playing so well. (Eli) Salama is a stud defender. (Anthony) Kalinich, too.

“We’ve got a good squad here.”

Imagine what it would be like with Dickson and Berg in the lineup.

Dickson and Berg finished one-two in goals and points last season, with Dickson tallying 47 goals and 92 points and Berg netting 37 goals and 86 points. Dickson’s goal count tied for the second-highest among all NLL players last year.

Wow!

But on that front, there’s no movement, with their agent, Richard Furlong, believing they will likely sit out the entire season and become restricted free agents come the summer, as per the new CBA.

While the Roughnecks refuse to discuss ongoing contract negotiations in the media, Furlong said in December it would only take an additional $20,000 — combined — to get both deals done and both B.C. talents back on the floor for the Riggers. And the agent has since said that it’s a shame talks haven’t progressed given that both Dickson and Berg are fond of their coaches and teammates.

So — like it or not — onwards go the Riggers without them.

But so far, so good if you throw out — really — one quarter of troubles in the season-opener, when just one goal for in that final frame would have likely meant a 3-0 start to the season.

They’ve made up for that letdown since.

“Every play in the fourth quarter is magnified double, or triple sometimes,” Malawsky said. “So to see the guys stick to the grind and battle through the fourth quarters (in the last two games) is nice, especially at home in front of the fans.”

“You’ve got to have that mental toughness to be able to stick with it.”

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

http://www.twitter.com/ToddSaelhofPM

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