Roughnecks camp will be competitive

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

The defence -- or, in this case, the defending champs -- should never rest.

Brad Banister and the Calgary Roughnecks learned that lesson the hard way.

The Riggers open training camp today in their quest to repeat as National Lacrosse League title-holders and will receive their championship rings tomorrow, but Banister insisted having a shiny piece of jewelry on your finger won't guarantee anybody a job for the upcoming campaign.

"In 2004, after we won the Champion's Cup, I think we got complacent. This year, I decided we wouldn't be complacent with what we had because every team is going to be getting better and coming after us," said Banister, the Roughnecks' majority owner and general manager.

"We're real good, but we want to be getting better all the time."

There will be no shortage of familiar names on the floor as the Roughnecks attempt to become the first team since the Toronto Rock in 2003 to successfully defend the NLL crown. Of the 16 runners that suited up for last year's Cup finale, all but two will be dusting off their pads when the Riggers open training camp tonight at the Calgary Northeast Sports Facility.

With Tracey Kelusky, Josh Sanderson, Kaleb Toth, Dane Dobbie and Scott Ranger all under contract for another season, the Roughnecks welcome back the nucleus of the West Division's most dangerous attack from last winter, although the retirement of Curt Malawsky leaves some big shoes to fill.

Former all-star Craig Conn seems like a lock to occupy Malawsky's old digs on the right crease, but lefties Spencer Martin, Cayle Ratcliff and Joel Henry and right-handers Nate Sanderson and Joe Vetere will also be campaigning for roster spots, while the squad has toyed with the idea of getting transition specialist Jeff Shattler more involved in the offence.

The retirement of Kyle Couling leaves one job available on a no-frills defensive unit anchored by Andrew McBride and Jeff Moleski. There promises to be plenty of competition during camp, though, with former Roughnecks Craig Gelsvik and Rob Kirkby returning to the fold and Rob Van Beek arriving in a trade with the Philadelphia Wings.

You can also pencil in Curtis Manning, the Riggers' first-round selection from 2008 and an agile defender Banister refers to as "one of the most highly touted rookies coming into our league this year."

"This kid is the real deal," Banister said. "He can do it all. He's a force. He's a smart kid. He's got all the tools. He's just a great lacrosse player."

The returning Riggers have done the math. And with more deserving candidates than jobs to fill, there might be a few not-so-happy campers.

"I definitely know that some of our defensive players have a bit of a burr -- they're a bit charged up right now," Banister said. "We don't want to upset the chemistry, but like I said before, we also don't want to get complacent. Maybe we'll have better talent sitting in the press box this year."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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