Repeat depends on Pym, King

TY PILSON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

Sports cliches are over-used and often annoying.

That said, many of them still ring true.

Take this little ditty, for instance, which comes in variations but delivers the same message: The toughest thing to do in sports is repeat as champions. (Just ask the Calgary Stampeders).

The Calgary Roughnecks -- and their fans -- will find that out first-hand this season.

The Riggers open their 2010 campaign today when they host the Minnesota Swarm at the Dome, more than seven months after they hoisted the Champion's Cup above their heads and swilled champagne in their home barn.

The Cup -- their second in franchise history to bookend the one they claimed in 2004 -- culminated a near-perfect season in which the team went 12-4 during the regular season to finish tops in the league before going 3-0 to win the championship.

The club's offence was dominant, their defence smothering and their goaltending stellar, as they left little doubt of their place as the best team in the NLL.

But that was then.

This is now.

In between, they saw their head coach Troy Cordingley and assistant coach Terry Sanderson leave to take posts with the Toronto Rock, while two key veteran players retired and the club added seven new faces, two of which played for the franchise in the past.

Pegged by quite a few pundits to not even make the playoffs last season, all eyes are on the Riggers this time around. They are the consensus pick as the top team heading into the season and will try to become the first NLL team to win back-to-back titles since the Rock did it in 2002 and '03.

Of course, the Roughnecks will need many things to go right in order to hoist the Cup again, but two particular areas will be paramount in that quest:

1. Can new head coach Dave Pym do it solo?

Following the departures of Cordingley and Sanderson, Pym was promoted to head coach.

Pym will be the first Albertan to serve behind an NLL bench in that capacity, and that fact -- along with never having coached top-level senior A ball -- left many questioning his qualifications. Some folks in the traditional lacrosse hotbeds of Ontario and B.C. scoffed at Pym's promotion given his resume.

However, majority owner/president/GM Brad Banister feels he's the right man for the job, and, more importantly you could argue, so do his players.

The pressure is now squarely on Pym's shoulders to maintain the style of play that led them to their recent championship. As an assistant, Pym worked with the team's offence.

How he does overseeing and re-implementing Cordingley's pressure defence will be the real key. That defence was the product of many months of practice to execute properly and held opposing offences to a league-low 167 goals against last year. It was the major reason the team won the Cup.

Pym, of course, will get plenty of help behind the bench from retired forward Curt Malawsky -- who will oversee the offence -- and former Colorado Mammoth coach Rod Jensen. Still, the buck stops with the top man, and Pym's performance will be closely scrutinized.

2. Can goalie Matt King do it again?

King came into last season looked at as little more than a career backup, seemingly destined to ride the pine and provide occasional relief work. He ended up becoming the team's undisputed starter and went 10-0, putting together an MVP-calibre season.

What changed in his game after struggling during much of his eight NLL seasons?

Tough to pinpoint. But King did play a much different style, still utilizing his angles but playing more aggressive and attacking the ball.

His biggest attribute last year, though, was consistency. There are plenty of good goalies in the league, but few have ever played game after game through a season with no real meltdowns like King did.

Of course, if King did falter, they had former starter Pat Campbell to spell him off in net. With Campbell taking the year off for school, former Rigger Chris Levis is back to serve as backup.

Still, this team will live and die by how well King plays in net.

Is it enough to defend the title? Stay tuned.

TY.PILSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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