Roughnecks work through quirky NLL schedule to start season

Heavy road calendar continues for Calgary’s pro lacrosse club Saturday in Colorado

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The Calgary Roughnecks are strangers to the Saddledome.

Through seven weeks of the season, they’ve played on WestJet Field just once.

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Sure, it’s easy to blame the National Lacrosse League schedule-makers.

But the Roughnecks know it’s no easy puzzle to pull together for 15 NLL teams, especially with the format having been changed so each one plays every other club in the league at least once during the 2023-24 campaign.

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“We’ve had some crazy schedules before in other seasons,” said GM Mike Board, whose Roughnecks (2-2) play away from home for the fourth time in five games this Saturday against the Colorado Mammoth (1-4) in Denver (7 p.m., TSN+).

“I don’t know if it was at the start of the season like this year. But I think we had one year where we had two or three double-byes. So we played three and then sat for two weeks, and then played one and then sat for two again.”

This year’s agenda has had its own strange challenges.

After losses to open the season in Rochester and San Diego, the Roughnecks had 20 days between games — and over Christmas — ahead of their home-opening win over the Las Vegas Desert Dogs on Dec. 30.

Then came another week off prior to last Saturday’s 14-7 double-up of the host Vancouver Warriors.

After Saturday’s visit to Denver, it’s yet another bye week for the Riggers before a double-header weekend at home in early February.

It’s a stop-and-start ride, for sure.

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“I think the toughest thing that the league office does is probably try and put schedules together for 15 lacrosse teams who are not necessarily the primary tenants in all their buildings,” admitted Board. “So it’s tricky.

“They only get so many dates to choose from.”

Throw in the format change the NLL has embraced this year, and it makes it ever more challenging to construct a calendar to please everyone.

For the first time since 2001, the league is using unified standings — that is all 15 teams under one conference playing for eight playoff spots — and a play-every-other-team-at-least-once schedule.

“It throws another curveball at the schedule-maker,” continued Board. “And this is how it ended up.”

For the Roughnecks, the slate is annually created after the NHL’s Calgary Flames, the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers and the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen have all secured their home dates in Scotiabank Saddledome.

So they choose from the remaining open nights on the calendar, giving the NLL a dozen or so dates from which to determine nine home games.

“It’s a combination of what’s available and what you would like, so you don’t just give them nine dates and say, ‘This is what we can do,’” Board said. “You provide more than nine dates and rank them all, and they try and give you your prioritized dates.”

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It’s perhaps even more difficult for their Week 8 hosts. The Mammoth fall in line behind two big-league tenants in the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets in trying to schedule dates for lacrosse games at Ball Arena.

“It’s tricky for us and it’s tricky for a lot of teams,” Board said. “I think scheduling is a massive thing for any sports and entertainment group or any sports league. In any building, there’s concerts and everything — they’re pretty busy places.

“I talked to the guys in Colorado and they’ve kind of had a schedule that looks like ours. They’ve got the NBA in there and hockey and concerts in the same way.”

The upside of the strange early season schedule is how many home tilts the Riggers have in their pocket for the remainder of the calendar.

“Yeah, after this weekend, we’ll play eight of our next 13 games at home,” said Board, whose side is back in the Dome on Feb. 2 and 3. “So that’s not a bad thing going down the stretch. That is the sort of silver lining in it, right? It’s different, but it’s good.”

Maybe even better since the Roughnecks historically draw bigger crowds later in the campaign.

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“It’s been tricky,” Board added. “But you manage through it and do different things to keep everyone sharp. You work on fitness, and you have regular meetings with the players on a weekly basis, even on the bye-weeks and particularly over the long break we had over Christmas. So we worked through it, and we’re kind of glad it’s behind us.

“The first little bit here is good and bad. The guys get to know each other. The coaches get to know the players. All those kinds of things happen while you’re on the road, so everyone should be on the same page and know everybody real well. And when we hit home, we’re playing in front of great crowds.

“If you look around the league, I think everybody is going to go through a part of their schedule that you look at and don’t like. But you have to adapt in this league. So that’s what you do.”

QUICK STICKS

The Roughnecks have dealt away forward Thomas Vela, who they acquired along with forward Thomas Hoggarth from the Rochester Knighthawks in a major off-season trade, sending him to the Mammoth for forward Brett McIntyre. Vela was deemed expendable with the Riggers sporting plenty of depth on the left side offensively … Calgary native McIntyre, a former star of the Okotoks Jr. A Raiders, played 20 games with the Mammoth, including seven in the playoffs, collecting 17 goals and 39 points over two seasons. “One of those trades that worked out for both teams,” Board said. “McIntyre’s a little bit the same as Vela, only on the right side. He’s really smart, great IQ, a hard worker and a team guy — you can’t ask for more than that. He’s living here in Calgary, which helps. Right now, he’s on the practice roster, but he’ll get used to being at all our practices, which is a good thing. I always kind of liked him and just had the opportunity to get him. It just seemed to be a real good fit.” … Defender Robert Hudson (upper body) is close to returning to the Roughnecks lineup, while forward Logan Schuss (MCL/ACL) remains out indefinitely.

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