Battle field levels out

WES GILBERTSON

, Last Updated: 6:08 AM ET

Even while exploring the other side of the globe, Calgary Roughnecks defender Andrew McBride was keeping a close eye on the National Lacrosse League's transaction wire.

Since returning from a six-week trip to India, he's had plenty of time to ponder the retooled Edmonton Rush attack.

"Ryan Powell, Gavin Prout, Ryan Ward ... the list goes on and on of guys they've added," McBride said.

And those are just the snipers. The Rush, who've finished in the NLL basement for two consecutive seasons, have also added defensive lynchpins Brodie Merrill and Bruce Alexander and goalie Matt Disher and hired a new head coach in former Portland LumberJax frontman Derek Keenan.

"When you see those names, it automatically makes an impact in your mind," McBride said. "You know those guys bring leadership, they bring a past track record of success and you know they're going to make an impact. We're well aware of those guys. All the guys on our team have played against them before and we know what they're capable of doing."

The Riggers will get their first glimpse of the revamped Rush roster during an exhibition showdown Saturday in Lethbridge.

The Roughnecks beat their provincial rivals three times last season, including a 22-10 thumping at Rexall Place, but they're not expecting any cakewalks in the upcoming campaign. The Rush made some significant waves in the off-season, landing Powell, Prout and Ward in separate swaps and snagging Merrill, Disher and established veteran Pat Jones in the LumberJax dispersal draft.

All of a sudden, the pushovers from up north appear poised to push back.

"It certainly caught my attention," said Riggers defender Bruce Codd. "They've improved as much, if not more than anybody from last year. It starts with their coaching staff. Derek Keenan has done a great job in Portland the last few years and I think he's got more talent on this Edmonton team than he ever had in Portland, and they've always been competitive.

"So I expect them to be full marks. It's going to be a tough game."

The Rush notched their franchise's first victory against the Riggers Feb. 17, 2006, but there's been few Battle of Alberta highlights since then. While the Roughnecks accepted their 2009 Champion's Cup rings two weekends ago, the Rush are still shooting for their first post-season berth in their fifth NLL campaign.

Riggers captain Tracey Kelusky expects the Rush to be "a lot better" than in years past, but he dismissed a suggestion the squad from Edmonton is playing catch-up with their provincial counterparts.

"It's not like they're trying to compete with the Calgary Roughnecks," Kelusky said. "Bringing in guys like Brodie Merrill and Gavin Prout -- all-star guys, guys that are potential future NLL Hall-of-Famers -- they've definitely made strides to become better. Not to keep on par with the Calgary Roughnecks, to try to win a championship."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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