Underdog delight

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:54 AM ET

Heard this one before?

You know, the story about the veteran-laden underdog squad from the Stampede City preparing to test their mettle against a sleek, sexy title favourite from San Jose?

Forget about the Flames and Sharks. The Calgary Roughnecks pay a visit to Silicon Valley tonight to open the National Lacrosse League slate against the San Jose Stealth, the consensus pick to finish atop the West Division.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't know that or didn't follow that, but it doesn't matter," said Roughnecks assistant captain Kaleb Toth.

"The season hasn't started yet. It all starts with Game 1. We play them, and if we pound them, then people are going to start changing their minds and maybe they'll put us up there at No. 1.

"But it doesn't matter to us. We can be the darkhorse."

They already are. Most pundits have pegged the Stealth as the top team in the NLL's West Division. With crafty passer Colin Doyle, sharpshooter Jeff Zywicki and hot-shot rookies Rhys Duch and Paul Rabil up front, the Stealth certainly look good on paper.

But the Roughnecks have their own stash of stars and, coming off their first losing campaign since 2002, feel like they have something to prove.

"We're not getting as much love as we're used to the last couple years, but that's just fine with us," said Riggers defender Andrew McBride.

"The year we won it, in 2004, we were the underdogs, and it kind of feels the same way this year. Guys in the room are confident. We know what we can do as a unit, as a coaching staff and as an organization.

"We're just going to go out, work hard and try to prove to other people in the league that we belong as a top-echelon team and we're going to be a force."

Beating the Stealth tonight at HP Pavilion would be a great way to start.

The Stealth and Roughnecks hooked up three times last season, with the West Coasters winning a pair of one-goal contests and the Riggers taking two points with a 16-13 win in San Jose.

Zywicki and Doyle were a two-man wrecking crew against the Roughnecks last season, combining for 21 goals and 42 points in three games.

"I think their offence is going to be really key, but I think we can pick apart their defence," said Roughnecks transition specialist Jeff Shattler, who'll be involved at both ends of the floor.

"Their defence is pretty good, but our offence is really good. That's where I think we're going to pick them off."

The Roughnecks won't have much time to relax after tonight's showdown with the Stealth. Their season-opener is tomorrow against the Edmonton Rush (7 p.m., Saddledome).

Expect the hosts to be sporting some bumps and bruises under their home silks.

"Every game we play San Jose, it tends to get a little rough. It tends to get pretty intense and pretty high-demanding physically and emotionally, and I can't see this game being any different," Toth said. "We like to win, and they like to win."


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