by Chris Palmer
Eight years removed from their inaugural season in 2002, the Calgary Roughnecks lacrosse team has established themselves as an important player in the Calgary sports scene.
Key to understanding the growth of the franchise is having an idea how the Roughnecks have developed and marketed lacrosse as something unique in this crowded market.
An important part of the experience, as expressed by many fans, is the rough nature of the sport. While this plays out as expected in fights and other body contact, it may be most evident during the faceoff.
Like a hockey faceoff, lacrosse begins with a two-player scrum over the ball at centre field. What tends to make things interesting is that alternating players from each team rush towards centre field at the blow of the whistle. The team that wins possession then begins the first rush of the game.
When interviewed about his reasons for loving the sport, long time fan Logan Kryski noted that he attends because the sport takes the “best of hockey and basketball.”
While the National Lacrosse League is split up into quarters, much like professional basketball, it is the usage of a shot clock that may be most responsible for speeding up the game.
Once a team takes possession of the ball, they are given 30 seconds to register a shot on the opposing goaltender. Should they fail to get a shot, the other team is given the ball. This increases the pace of the game, keeping the fans engaged.
In addition to the quick pace, a lot of effort goes into creating an exciting environment for the fans. High-energy music is pumped out over the Saddledome speaker system the entire time the ball is in play. The volume decreases when the road team has the ball, and increases when the Roughnecks hold the ball.
The arena announcer, Dennis Deis, plays a significant role in getting the fans involved. Deis encourages the fans to play along with such chants as “What’s he got?” to which the fans together answer “nothing!” when referencing a failed scoring attempt by the opposing team.
A former referee, Deis understands the pressures of being on the field, and his chants are usually tongue-in-cheek, with an obvious respect for the family environment of the game.
Long time season-ticket holder Eric Rayner said that one of the reasons behind his passion for the Roughnecks stems from the family friendly atmosphere focused on by the team.
The Roughnecks offer relatively inexpensive tickets (anywhere from $25 to $67 dollars), allowing families to afford to make a lacrosse game a weekend outing.
The team also makes players available at the end of every home game by inviting the fans onto the field to get signatures or simply to meet the players.
Fans tend to return the respect shown by the team, often even sticking around after a loss to applaud and show their respect.
While the Roughnecks have brought with them a fast-paced product that has seemingly been embraced by a growing fan base, the team has also brought with them something even more tangible: success.
The Roughnecks won the National Lacrosse League Champions Cup in 2004 and again last season. A result of dedication from the owners, the front office and the players themselves, this success has helped the team leverage itself as a viable alternative to the other major sports in the city.
The Roughnecks hit the road for a game against the Orlando Titans on March 20 and return to the Saddledome on March 26, with a special breast cancer awareness night versus the Minnesota Swarm.