'Neck-ing with passion

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Since winning the 2004 NLL championship the Calgary Roughnecks have started the last two seasons expecting to repeat.

They haven't even come close.

Despite adding one or two impact players each year to their veteran squad, they've been first-round losers ever since.

Consensus is they had the talent, not the desire.

That's all about to change, says Riggers mainstay Kaleb Toth.

"I think you'll see a lot more passion in the games," said Toth on the eve of hosting their season opener against the San Jose Stealth tonight (7:30 p.m.'Dome).

"There's a whole new face of the team and I think it's important to do that sometimes. I think (GM) Kurt (Silcott) recognized guys were getting complacent -- getting a little too comfortable with their positions -- and brought in guys to challenge them.

"It brings more commitment to the team and energy and guys have to play well or they're not going to play."

In his second year with the club, Silcott was busy putting his stamp on a team that is now focused on improved speed and transitional play.

"The talent has absolutely been there but last year teams outran us -- that was the genesis behind bringing in these new young guys. They can all run and they're all athletic and that's going to pay dividends."

It already has, said Toth, who claims players like Scott Ranger, Jeff Shattler, Luke Hinton and Kerry Susheski have re-energized him -- so much so that the 29-year-old has grown an inch and added five lb., according to the team's bio.

"I think the biggest thing is we have a lot of young guys who have come in and they're just excited about playing lacrosse," said the Calgary native.

"I think a lot of the veterans the last couple years have taken for granted that they're pro lacrosse players. I know for myself I wasn't really enjoying going to the rink like I should have been. And now I see these kids who love playing so much, it brings the energy level up so much more and it makes you miss being that way.

"I miss being that guy who was full of fire and scoring goals and getting the crowd into it.

"Now with them here I'm starting to get that smile on my face more and I think that's what's happening with a lot of the guys."

One of the players who has most team observers buzzing is 24-year-old Nolan Heavenor, a former NCAA champ who was acquired from Minnesota to spearhead the 'Necks transitional game.

"I think fans will recognize him after the first game as one of the best players in the league," said owner Brad Banister of the 5-ft. 9-in., 180-lb. pepperpot.

"He's kind of like a Kaleb and (captain) Tracey (Kelusky) combined."

Although surprised to lose Curtis Palidwor via the expansion draft, Silcott insists two-year backup Andrew Leyshon is ready to be the starting goalie.

"I've played Leyshon since I was 16 years old and it's not an issue at all -- he's a No. 1 goaltender," said Ranger, a 23-year-old forward who signed with Calgary because it also has one of the league's best crowds.

"That makes a big difference -- when I played for San Jose we hated playing here because the crowd goes crazy here. We're young, we're fast and we have some heavy hitters in the back to get the crowd pumped up.

"They're known around the league for being a big, tough defence. You know you're going to get whacked when you play Calgary."

And this year they promise to deliver every painful blow with more speed and excitement than ever.


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