Emotions will be running high in the Calgary Roughnecks locker room on Saturday night.
The Roughnecks are set to raise the championship banner to the rafters of the Scotiabank Saddledome prior to hosting the Colorado Mammoth in a divisional tilt in their home opener.
With the Roughnecks players from last season’s roster also set to receive their championship rings on Saturday night, Roughnecks forward Curtis Dickson said it’s going to be an emotional night, but said they still have to remain focused on task ahead.
“It’s going to be an emotional night; it’s going to be cool and it’s going to be a really awesome experience,” said Dickson.
“But as soon as the opening whistle goes, we have to be back to business. We can’t be reminiscing on last season when we got a big task at hand. It’s a big divisional game.”
Historically, when the Roughnecks and Mammoth meet it results in a tight, low-scoring, defensive battle. Heading into such a game, the likes of Roughnecks goaltender Christian Del Bianco and the entire defensive unit will need to be at their best.
In their season opener two weeks ago, Del Bianco and the Roughnecks defense held the Vancouver Warriors to just seven goals, with Del Bianco stopping 63 of 70 shots, en-route to being named the game’s first star.
Roughnecks general manager Mike Board said he’s been impressed with the play of Del Bianco and the defense to start the year, including training camp, and said they seem to be picking up right where they left off last season.
“Del Bianco kind of showed everyone last year he’s stepped into his own and, thus far, it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat,” said Board.
“As a whole, I think our defensive group matured last year. I really like what they’re doing on the backend defensively, and how they’re able to transition the ball and just play a solid game all around.”
Backed by Dillon Ward between the pipes, the Mammoth consistently prove to be a tough out, defensively, year after year.
In order to find success against the Mammoth on the offensive side of the ball, Dickson said it’s a matter of sticking to the offensive game plan and not getting too far off track.
“Our coaches put a game plan forward for a reason, so as long as we stick to that, keep the ball moving, and try not to do too much individually, we should be successful,” said Dickson.
Dickson kicked off the 2019-20 season on the right foot, tallying five points (two goals, three assists) in the season-opening victory over the Warriors.
Dickson said he’s 100 per cent healthy to start the season and is feeling as motivated as ever to make another deep run.
“I had a couple months off between my summer season and this one, so it’s been good,” said Dickson.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ground running this year, so I’m personally feeling good and ready to go right off the hop here.”
The Roughnecks roster has a slightly different look to it this season with the likes of Wesley Berg, Riley Loewen, Tyler Digby, and Dan MacRae all landing in new homes during the off-season.
Board said replacing those players is going to be a team effort, and said the successful draft they had went a long way in helping the process.
“We did a lot of things at the draft, including a trade. We ended up getting Marshal King, Jesse King’s brother, we took a young, right-handed offensive guy in Haiden Dickson, and a young defender in Liam LeClair,” said Board.
“All those guys came into camp and earned roster spots, so we’re excited about that. We’re quite happy with how the draft went, and felt we filled some holes with some really good athletes that can contribute throughout the year.”
Although the departures of Berg, Loewen, Digby, and MacRae are significant, in addition to the six-game suspension of Dane Dobbie, there are still a large number of significant returning pieces from last season’s championship roster.
Board said he feels strongly about the roster they’ve assembled for the season and believes they’re in a good position to make another deep run into the post-season.
“Out of the 26 guys we have, about 18 of them were here last year. Those guys learned a lot through last season, so there’s a lot of knowledge and advice being passed onto the new guys in the locker room,” said Board.
“We feel pretty good. It’s certainly early in the season, but we like our depth, the character on our team, and our athleticism. At this point, we’re pretty happy to move forward.”