Calgary Herald

Roughnecks look to play spoiler in season finale


Year 1 of the Josh Sanderson era hasn't gone as planned for the Calgary Roughnecks.

The biggest shortcomin­g? That's easy, since they've fallen shy of the playoffs in the 2023-24 National Lacrosse League season.

“Definitely, I thought we'd be making the playoffs,” said a no-nonsense Sanderson, when asked what he envisioned when taking on the challenge of his head coaching debut in the NLL.

“So that's disappoint­ing. I thought we were a playoff team, and unfortunat­ely, we let a couple of games slip away that cost us that.”

Most notably were losing efforts in their last two tilts — road drops to the Saskatchew­an Rush 12-9 two Saturdays ago and then 14-7 to the Buffalo Bandits last weekend — leaving them with a 7-10 record heading into Saturday's wrap-up game against the Panther City Lacrosse Club (9-8) on Westjet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome (7 p.m., TSN+).

“We haven't played the greatest last two games,” Sanderson, 46, said. “So we expect to be a lot better in our final game here than we were on the road. And, yeah, it's not gonna be the same team coming back next year. So it's a chance for everybody to leave on a good note.”

For a first-year adventure, however, it's obviously been one of head scratching, frustratio­n and challenge for Sanderson, especially after inheriting a lineup that posted a franchise-high 13 wins under Curt Malawsky during the 2022-23 regular schedule.

“I would say all those things, for sure,” said Sanderson. “It was frustratin­g that we couldn't get the consistenc­y going. So, yeah, just the focus will be on getting better where we need to get better, and there's a few areas that we've just got to get better at and play better lacrosse — and that'll be the focus going forward.”

The areas he most wants to see the team improve in next year are on production, on the faceoffs and on special teams.

“You know, valuing the ball more,” said Sanderson. “I think we've got to get a little bit better offensivel­y and fix some special teams stuff. We've gotta get better on faceoffs and on special teams if we want to be with the top dogs.

“We've got to play a cleaner brand of lacrosse. That will be the focus going into the off-season.”

That all said, Sanderson is still learning on the job

Before this opportunit­y, he held positions in the NLL as an assistant GM and offensive co-ordinator, but never as coach.

“I learned quite a bit this year,” Sanderson said. “You've got to learn the team and personnel. Just getting some experience and all that stuff was good.

“Just learning about the roster was a big thing — I didn't know a lot of the guys personally coming over. So now it's good that stuff can be out of the way moving forward. But I definitely learned a lot.

“Now it's about finding the right balance, and I think we'll be better for moving forward.”

For the here and now, however? They can spoil the season of rival Panther City, which heads into the final few days of the schedule trying to track down one of the two final playoff berths. They went into the weekend in a heated standings battle with the Vancouver Warriors (8-9), the Rush (8-9), the New York Riptide (8-9) and the Rochester Knighthawk­s (6-10) in an effort to reach the post-season.

“It's about just trying to finish the season obviously with a win and a really good effort at home,” added Sanderson.

“Obviously, it doesn't mean as much in the standings, but we want to play well at home and finish on a good note.”

QUICK STICKS: The Roughnecks are without defenceman and alternate captain Eli Salama (lower body) and forward Thomas Hoggarth (upper body) for Saturday's game ... Injuries are keeping transition Justin Inacio (lower body) and defenceman Robert Hudson (upper body) off the Riggers' active roster ... Forward Brett Mcintyre (lower body) moves from the team's injury list to the active roster ... And young draftee and forward Riley Isaacs, a former Calgary junior A Mounties star, joins the Roughnecks' active roster against Panther City.

 ?? ?? Josh Sanderson
Josh Sanderson

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada