Rough-housers

You can feel the excitement and anticipation in the voice of Calgary RoughNeck’s Head Coach and General Manager, Kevin Melnyk.

A former member of Canada’s national lacrosse team, Melnyk has a solid idea of what it will take to add a winning team to Calgary’s sports arena. And with a few key acquisitions at last Friday’s National Lacrosse League expansion draft, he seems well on his way to making it all happen.

"We picked up about three or four guys that we will build around," explained Melnyk. "The rest of the players will be packaged and traded."

Now, the real work begins. With the addition of four teams to the already competitive NLL, the task for the Calgary franchise is to find quality players not affiliated with the competition already.

"The majority of our players will be coming out of the Western Lacrosse Association, in British Columbia," noted Melnyk.

However, there will be some homegrown talent showcased in November when the inaugural season kicks off. The RoughNecks traded away both a first-round and a second-round draft pick to the New York Saints. In return, they acquired Ryan Campbell of Burnaby, B.C., Ben Prepchuk of Sherwood Park, Alta., and Calgary’s own Jason Wulder.

With both Prepchuk and Wulder on board for the 2001-2002 season, the RoughNecks have two thirds of the NLL’s Alberta contingent on the squad. The remaining third is Calgary’s Kaleb Toth. But, after his breakout season last year for the Toronto Rock, Toth is too expensive a commodity for Melnyk and co. to pick up.

As for other potential local talent, Melnyk believes that in order to make it to the NLL, players need to first hone their skills in either the WLA or in the Ontario Lacrosse Association.

"To take a guy out of the Calgary Junior or Senior program and throw him into the NLL, would be the same as taking a guy out of the East Coast Hockey League and throwing him into the NHL," Melnyk reasoned. "They’d be like a deer caught in headlights."

The speed and strength of players in the NLL–the same attributes that would overwhelm the Calgary boys–is exactly what the RoughNecks are counting on to fill the Saddledome.

With tickets ranging from $12 to $38, lacrosse will be a viable alternative to other overpriced professional sports. And if Melnyk is right in his prediction, "I think we could contend for a playoff spot." Calgary fans may have something to cheer about come April of next year.

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