Kirkby a blast from past

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:53 PM ET

This time, Rob Kirkby was simply a spectator at the ring ceremony.

On the first weekend of Kirkby's latest stint with the Calgary Roughnecks, the 30-year-old defender watched his new teammates -- and several old ones, too -- collect their championship hardware.

He could've worn his own ring to the celebratory shindig, but that's not his style.

"It's on display," Kirkby explained. "It's something I like to look at. In fact, it's more of a ... I don't want to say an icon, but it's something I respect too much to be wearing every day."

While his memento of the 2004 Champion's Cup triumph will remain on his mantlepiece, Kirkby is dusting off his pads after a three-year hiatus from the National Lacrosse League.

Kirkby was in the Riggers lineup for last night's 15-12 exhibition victory over the Edmonton Rush in Lethbridge, and GM Brad Banister was impressed with what he saw.

"He's playing better than we expected, and he's getting better every time he hits the floor," Banister said. "Our defence is looking pretty good. I have to admit, they're looking really good."

The Riggers also made a solid first impression on offence, scoring 10 times in the first half before taking their foot off the gas.

Speedy Jeff Shattler completed his hat-trick in about three minutes and finished with five goals, while Craig Conn also scored three times.

Nolan Heavenor and Dane Dobbie had two each, while Rob Van Beek, Scott Ranger and rookie Carlton Schuss had singles for the Riggers.

The defence, as expected, took it from there.

The Riggers boasted the league's most stingy defensive unit last season and limited the high-powered New York Titans to only 10 goals in the Champion's Cup finale, but the return of Kirkby is one of the main reasons some insiders believe they'll be even better this season.

Kirkby was regarded as one of NLL's top defenders during his first stint in the Stampede City and played a key role in the Riggers' unexpected title run in 2004.

Banister was thrilled about bringing back the speedster, recounting memories of a double-overtime goal Kirkby scored against the Toronto Rock to help the Riggers lock up a playoff berth in their first championship season.

"We called him the Toronto killer. I think he single-handedly got us into the playoffs in 2004, when we won the Champion's Cup," Banister said. "He hits hard, but he's also got such fast feet that he can go down the floor and score big goals, like he did in the Toronto game.

"I just expect more Rob Kirkby -- tenacious, fast, just a real good defender."

Kirkby was named a West Division all-star in 2004, when he established career-highs for goals (three), assists (15) and loose balls (86).

The Roughnecks have adopted more of a no-frills, in-your-face approach to defence over the past two campaigns, but Kirkby figures he's a perfect fit for the revamped system -- and vice versa.

"To a T," he said. "I've always liked to, instead of sitting back and waiting for the offence to make mistakes, pushing forward and forcing them to make mistakes. That's the way defence should be played, in my mind."

The Roughnecks defensive system won't change much from last season, but there's a possibility the personnel will look a little different.

With both Kirkby and hard-nosed Craig Gelsvik returning to the fold and top prospect Curtis Manning knocking on the door, the returnees aren't taking anything for granted.

"Those guys have come in and looked great already, so it's going to be tough for the guys that have been here, and that's great," said Riggers assistant captain Andrew McBride.

"Guys definitely know that there are jobs on the line and the intensity needs to be ramped up because the coaches came in right away and said there are no gauranteed spots.

"When you go down the roster, you believe it."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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