It's about time

TY PILSON -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

Many Calgary Roughnecks, when quizzed yesterday, didn't know the exact count but they all knew it had been a really long time. For the record, the winning answer was 238 days.

Two-hundred thirty-eight days between last May's National Lacrosse League championship victory over the Buffalo Bandits and tomorrow's 2005 season opener against the Colorado Mammoth in Denver (7 p.m., Ch. 30).

After a long rest on the sidelines, the Roughnecks get back in the game and defend their NLL title.

"I can't wait," said Roughnecks forward Lewis Ratcliff, who led Calgary in scoring last season during both the regular season and playoffs. "I'm ready to go ... I'm so excited to get the season started."

The lengthy nature of the NLL off-season has been both a blessing and a curse for the club this year, said Calgary head coach Chris Hall.

"Obviously, it was a great summer because when you win a championship, you get to savour it and gloat a little bit and that's fun," said Hall, who's been the team's bench boss since the club's first faceoff three seasons ago. "But once we got back to practise in the pre-season (at the beginning of November) it was all business. We're anxious to get back on the floor. It's about time."

The 2005 version of the Roughnecks is significantly different from the squad that beat the Bandits May 7 at the Saddledome for Calgary's first championship.

Of the 18 players dressed that night, six -- a full third of the roster -- are no longer with the team. Gone are Ted Dowling (retired), Tyson Leies (retired), Grant Hamilton (unable to play), Rob Kikby (traded), Brad MacArthur (released) and Matt King (lost in the Minnesota dispersal draft).

The biggest blow, however, is the loss of last year's rookie- and co-defender of the year Taylor Wray, who's expected to be sidelined with a leg injury for the first half of the season.

The newcomers tasked with filling the roles of the departed Riggers are an impressive lot.

Local product Andrew Biers, along with Andy Ogilvie, Rob Williams and Chris Gill are expected to have an immediate impact while Ryan McNish, Andrew Leyshon and Travis Gillespie should play a significant role for the squad this year.

A lot has been made of Calgary's high turnover rate but Hall is confident in the team.

"I guess the proof of that will be how we perform," said Hall. "How quick the new guys buy into the system. I don't think there's any team in the league that didn't have a reasonable amount of change in their roster (this off-season).

"It will take a little time for everyone to blend together and we will have to be a little cautious at the beginning that we play to our strengths but I'm confident. We have the talent, we just have to make the chemistry work."

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QUICK STICKS: The NLL has changed a few rules for the upcoming season. Among the highlights: Sudden-death overtime periods will be 15 minutes in length and go until a goal is scored; no passing back to goalkeepers in the crease; when two players are battling for a loose ball, legal physical contact is allowed within 2.74 metres of the ball, up from .914 metres (one yard); draw men will now be allowed to clamp and trap the ball during faceoffs.


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