The NLL season is finally back and the Vancouver Warriors and Calgary Roughnecks are ready for opening weekend action.
The Warriors and the Roughnecks are kicking off their respective 2019-20 campaigns just like they did last season: facing-off against each other. Only this time, the battle will be in Rogers arena instead of the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Their Friday night duel will be the second game of the new season.
While the teams squaring off are the same, the rosters aren’t, especially for the Warriors. For the home side, the turf will be graced by championship-winning newcomers such as former Saskatchewan Rush defensemen, Nik Bilic and the former Roughnecks forward, Riley Loewen. Loewen, a Burnaby-native, is now with his hometown club after spending a few years with the Rush and Roughnecks. Playing in front. He may be wearing a new jersey, but playing for the Warriors will make him feel right at home.
“I’ve got about 60 family and friends coming out on Friday,” Loewen said, “So that’s pretty exciting.”
Loewen’s ability to score, plus his vision to find teammates adds another threat from the left side and can help spread the offence. Mitch Jones and Logan Schuss are proven 30+ goals-aseason players and Loewen is coming off his most prolific goal-scoring year of his career netting 20 goals.
The right side also added some offensive depth with Mike Mallory making his way back to the NLL after playing a couple of games for the Mammoth back in 2017. It’s impossible to say if a impressive comeback season is in the cards for Mallory, but it would be a trend for Warriors righties. Both Keegan Bal and Jordan McBride were both out of the league for a few years before storming the league last season with 32 and 31 goals respectively. If Mallory can make some noise like those two dead, the Warriors could potentially have scoring threats from every offensive man on the floor.
If training camp is any indication, the Warriors are once again going to have a few young, scrappy players on the back-end. Even without Loewen playing for the Roughnecks, Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie and company will be a hard first task for new defensive guys such as Sam Clare and Derek Lloyd. But, defensemen Matt Beers believes that both players have a lot to offer.
“Guys like Sam Clare and [Derek] Lloyd have a lot to learn still, but they’ve shown a lot of energy on the back-end and good transition abilities,” Beers said. “So, that’s a huge positive on the back-end. They’re going to add a lot of speed on that back-end, so they’ll be good with the veteran core.”
That veteran core of Beers, Ian Hawksbee, and the return of Chris O’Dougherty will help the up-and-comers adjust to the NLL-style.
Another important addition comes at the face-off X. Bob Snider, a career 60.5% face-off win percentage man at the dot, will be taking over the face-off duties this season. He’s a proven talent when it comes to possessing the ball, and could provide the Warriors with many more possessions than last season when they only won 34.5% of the draws. Beers understands that having a guy like snider on the floor who will make an instant impact.
“Bobby’s a guy that’s been there and done that,” Beers said. “He’s a veteran and knows how to be successful. He knows how to possess the ball and has a pretty good stick in transition when he has the ball. He’s definitely a guy we’re going to look to to be an impact player.” With all of the additions and adjustments the Warriors have made over the off-season, head coach Chris Gill feels that the front office and coaching staff have stepped up to resolve some of the issues the team had last year. One of those was depth.
“Depth was the biggest issue at our year-end meetings last year,” Gill said. “We said ‘this is what we did this year, so what are we gonna do about our depth next year.’”. It usually takes a few weeks for a team to find its groove, but the Warriors understand that starting the season off with a win against the defending NLL Cup champions would be a huge momentum-builder.
The Alterna Cup and West Division pride is on the line on Friday night, and both Gill and Beers know that defining the game with the Warriors tough, hard-fought style will be important to keeping pace with a team that knows how to win.
“I think you’ll see this year that we’re going to be try to be the hardest working team out there every week.” Gill said
“We’re going to be a team that’s going to be tough to play against,” Beers said. Last season, these two teams started the NLL season in style as the Warriors stormed back from a five-goal deficit in the fourth quarter and then eventually bested the Roughnecks in overtime 14 to 13. It would be a treat for all the fans in Rogers Arena is this match would be as exciting.