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Sports This Week: Calgary Roughnecks greatly changed from NLL championship

Coach Malawsky anticipates growing game-to-game
Curt Malawsky by Candice Ward 72
CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 6, 2021: The Calgary Roughnecks training camp at the Calgary Soccer Centre on Saturday morning.
YORKTON - When the National Lacrosse League handed out its championship trophy last it was the Calgary Roughnecks who hoisted the hardware. 

That was in 2019, and the league has not awarded the trophy since, as COVID-19 caused cancellations including the entire 2020-21 season. 

The good news for lacrosse fans is the NLL kicks off its new season Friday with Vancouver in San Diego. 

Our Saskatchewan Rush are in Halifax Saturday, and the defending champion Roughnecks head to Buffalo the same day as two of six games Dec. 4. 

Calgary might technically be the defending champions but the Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky said that really isn’t a factor headed into the new season. 

“We’re a whole different team than we were two years ago,” he said in a recent telephone interview. 

In fact, the Roughnecks have so many changes Malawsky said the first step for the club is “focusing on our identity.” 

Some of the final questions about what the Roughnecks have will likely be answered in earlier season games, in part because there hasn’t been time in preseason to get everything figured out, said Malawsky, who has been the Calgary head coach since 2013. He was named associate coach/offence coordinator and assistant GM during the summer of 2009. 

“The short training camp makes it challenging,” he said, but also noted “. . . it’s exciting.” 

In some respects it’s just getting back to some basics. 

“We’re just trying to figure out what we have,” he said. 

While there are significant turnovers in terms of the Roughnecks’ roster, one constant is slick scoring forward Curtis Dickson. 

“Dickson is a big part of our leadership group. He’s earned a lot of respect,” said Malawsky, who added while the forward will lend his voice in the dressing room “he does most of his talking on the floor.” 

With the turnover in players Malawsky said he expected veterans like Dickson will elevate their contribution. 

One thing the loss of the last season will mean is most players, especially older veterans, have come to camp healthy. 

Malawsky said there are “nagging injuries” which linger “season-to-season-to-season” and those are hopefully gone now. 

But there is another side to a year of inactivity too. 

“It’s hard to replicate playing,” said Malawsky. 

In the extended offseason players could lift weights, and work on their cardio, “but you can’t simulate a game” to get into play shape, he explained. 

So there will be rust to knock off as the season starts and the Roughnecks start the season on the road, first in aforementioned Buffalo then into Saskatoon to play the Rush Dec. 11, which Malawsky noted are both “perennial powerhouses” so Calgary will learn some lessons the hard way. 

There is also a lot of uncertainty about other teams headed to the start of the season with a lot of player movement since the Roughneck championship. 

Malawsky said he can’t worry too much about what other teams are doing early on. 

“We have to focus on what do we have,” he said. 

So what is the Roughneck coach anticipating his team will be like in the season ahead? 

Malawsky said he wants players to be part of a greater whole, adding with the changes “the tough part is bringing everybody together.” 

In that respect Malawsky said training camp has been a bit like going back to school, teaching the fundamental approach he wants the team to have “then slowly build from week-to-week.” 

That includes getting younger players fitting into the team game plan, players such as Kyle Waters. 

Helping keep things steady as the team jells is Christian Del Bianco, one of the top netmimders in the NLL, added Malawsky. 

While there are unknowns for the Roughnecks and their opponents in terms of personnel headed into play, one thing they all have in common is an excitement about just being back playing. 

Malawsky said “it’s really nice” to be back on the floor, adding “you don’t really realize how much you miss it . . . to be part of the game that I love. 

“I’m super excited to be here representing the Roughnecks.”  

Prior to taking on a coaching role with the Roughnecks, Malawsky played forward for the Calgary club for two of his 12 National Lacrosse League seasons.