Rough start

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:15 PM ET

They raised the conference banner, turned down the music and then struggled to muster any offence.

Sound familiar?

OK, so this Calgary squad managed to hold onto a late lead.

Still, the Flames tradition of playing down to their opponents lived on through the Roughnecks last night as they squeaked out an 11-9 win over Edmonton's expansion Rush last night at the 'Dome.

After a week of manufactured rhetoric led by Rush owner Bruce Urban, the latest incarnation of the Battle of Alberta got off to, well, a start.

Exhibiting the precision and intensity of a pre-season game, the highly touted Roughnecks opened their season with a surprisingly close affair.

Outshot by Edmonton 47-44, it actually took some deft goaltending from Curtis Palidwor to save the 'Necks from the ultimate embarrassment of losing to an expansion club.

"It's nice to get the win but I'd be lying if I didn't say we're a little disappointed," said Roughnecks defender Taylor Wray, who chipped in two goals. "Our offence wasn't in sync and our defence wasn't communicating as well as it could."

Suffering through an inordinate amount of time-count violations, the vaunted Roughnecks offence stumbled all night long as they kicked off what many expect to be another championship-type season. While last year's leading scorer, Lewis Ratcliff, potted five, Tracey Kelusky scored just once and Kaleb Toth hit the post twice and had no goals.

Outside of the win, the players realize they gave the fans little of what they were looking for.

Waiting -- no, hoping -- for the typical all-Alberta crankiness to surface, the crowd of 13,335 got louder when Calgary's Andrew McBride punched Jimmy Quinlan in the head in the first quarter.

Another spark came from Wray when he wrapped up Kerry Susheski with a slash-turned-clothesline that left the offender crashing head-first into the net as his helmet flew.

Still, no fireworks. Wray later worked over an opponent with the ball while his brother, Devan, was simultaneously being challenged to a fight by Susheski. With Susheski's gloves on the turf and the invitation issued, Devan walked away with a smirk.

The crowd booed.

Make no mistake, all the typical positional battles that make lacrosse so delicious were present, as were a number of solid hits. However, it's clearly a tad too early to expect either side to display the type of dislike Albertans have come to expect when north meets south.

Rush backup goalie Pat Campbell did his best to get the party started with five minutes left, taking exception to Wray, who ran into the net when steered there by Edmonton defender Ted Jenner. While Jenner held the 230-lb. Wray, Campbell threw several punches at Wray's head.

Although both squads rushed to the scene and the crowd went wild, neither side was willing to do anything too rash with the 'Necks clinging to a 10-9 lead.

"I don't know if he thought I ran him," shrugged Wray, who proved there were no hard feelings by giving Campbell a pat on the back while retrieving his stick.

"Goalies have a tendency to freak out every so often."

One minute later, Jason Wulder sealed the deal.

The team's new announcer toned down the bombast, the deejay turned down the tunes a tad and the Drill Crew added a pair of tumblers to spice up their act.

The Roughnecks know they better do the same or a season of high expectations will end like last year's Western final -- unfulfilled.


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