Hitting the right note

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The vice-president of the Calgary Roughnecks says Edmonton has no idea what it's in for -- dancing girls, loud music, scoring, fighting and more crosschecking than you can, um, swing a stick at.

No, we haven't been invited to a Hells Angels keg party.

Actually, the party is coming here, when the National Lacrosse League announces this morning that Edmonton is getting a team.

"You're going to love it," said Bob Poole, who's watched the Roughnecks grow into a championship contender averaging 11,000 fans a game.

"It's a new sport for most people, they show up for the first time to see what the hell it's all about, but once they go to a game they're hooked.

"It has elements of the CFL, NFL, NBA and NHL, there's a bit of everything. Goals, hits, cheerleaders, music, it's just a very exciting game."

The NLL has been hit or miss in its other markets, either wildly successful (like Calgary and Toronto, which sold out the Air Canada Centre for next Saturday's championship final against Wayne Gretzky's Arizona Sting) or falling flat, like the folded entries in Vancouver and Ottawa.

Now we'll see how Edmonton responds. After surviving an 11th-hour scare, Calgary businessman Bruce Urban and the NLL came together yesterday, ironed out their problems in a conference call and sealed the deal.

HOME GAMES AT REXALL

"It's a go," said Urban, who's been working on the project for a couple of months and paid just under $2 million for the expansion franchise. "It's going to be exciting. I think it'll take off, I really do."

The team will play its eight home games at Rexall Place with a roster filled largely by an expansion draft. They'll also get first pick in the NLL entry draft.

"In Calgary's third year they won the championship," said Urban, who also has business ties and interests in Edmonton. "We want to be competitive and we're going to do what we can do to be competitive, but until you see your players for the first time it's hard to tell. We will be creating excitement at the games."

They'll also be up against the Oilers (eventually) and Road Runners in the competition for Edmonton's winter entertainment dollar.

LOTS OF FIGHTS

"I think Edmonton will absolutely love it," said Urban, the 39-year-old president of Western RVCountry. "If you've been to a Calgary-Toronto game where it's hard-hitting and lots of fights, you'll see it's a great sport. Sports Illustrated, in their April 25th issue, had a five-page article on lacrosse being the hottest up- and-coming sport in North America.

"They average 25 goals a game and there's lots of hard hitting. Seriously, it couldn't be like hockey where they have games in two nights, because they take far more punishment than hockey players."

Urban, one of the parties trying to buy the Stampeders last December, wanted a piece of the NLL as soon as he saw it. "I'm just a sports fan. I've got season tickets for the Stampeders, Oilers and Flames and my company is sponsoring the IHRA Bud Park Nationals in Edmonton, We've got a chuckwagon in the Calgary Stampede. I love events like that and I wanted to create something really neat and cool in Edmonton. And this is a cool sport. The 20-something crowd is going to love it."

The Roughnecks, in just their fourth season, are competing with the Flames and the WHL Calgary Hitmen and have cultivated a deep fan base. They've also cashed in on the NHL lockout.

"It's grown every year, but sponsorship took a huge leap, by about 800%, this season," said Poole. "And our season tickets went up by 50%. It takes a while, you have to get yourself into the community, but I see no reason why it shouldn't take off in Edmonton."


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