Roughnecks get first win of NLL season with help from new faces

Josh Sanderson gets his first NLL coaching win in home-opening decision over Desert Dogs

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The new guys of the Calgary Roughnecks introduced themselves to the city’s lacrosse fans Saturday night.

What’s up, Sniper Hoggarth?

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Welcome to The Show, Rookie Smith.

How ya doin’, Coach Sanderson?

Just peachy, after they all won in their home debuts for the National Lacrosse League club.

“I’m happy with the win — I’m not going to lie,” said head coach Josh Sanderson of his club’s first win of the season — 17-11 over the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. “I’ll sleep a little bit better than usual, for sure.

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“It’s just a good win, and I’m happy for the guys.”

Prized off-season acquisition Thomas Hoggarth had two goals — both clutch — while Sanderson picked up his maiden victory as the team’s new bench boss and of his NLL head coaching career..

Bennett Smith acquitted himself well, as well, after becoming the Roughnecks’ first-round pick — 11th overall — in the 2023 NLL Draft in the fall.

Dandy debuts, to be sure, in front of a solid showing of 13,405 fans at Scotiabank Saddledome.

“It’s wild in there,” said Hoggarth, who was dealt to the Riggers by the Rochester Knighthawks on draft day in September. “It was super loud, so it’s a great experience when you first get out there. I think the last time I was here was in 2019 with Buffalo, when we lost in the finals, and it was electric then. So I was quite happy to be on the other side this time. It’s honestly like having an extra player out there because they’re cheering so loud, and I think we feed off that.”

Hoggarth & Co. certainly did that in the middle part of Saturday’s contest.

While Hoggarth helped put the home side up with 3-2 and 8-6 goals early on, the game was decided during a six-goal run by the Riggers spanning the second and third quarters taking the wind out of former Roughnecks goaltender Landon Kells.

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Captain Jesse King netted his second of the game to ignite the run — and a huge night for him, as he counted a game-high nine points — before Liam LeClair scored in transition just ahead of halftime.

Then, it was King three minutes into the third stanza, ahead of Josh Currier’s long-bomb from the top of the zone, sophomore Seth Van Schepen’s rare tally and Haiden Dickson’s second of four on the evening.

Draftee Smith picked up an assist in making the play on Van Schepen’s goal in alone on Kells.

“It was Bennett’s best game, for sure,” Sanderson said. “He’s just taking steps every practice and every game. And I think he’s only going to get better. He doesn’t look overly big, but he’s a strong man, so it seems like he’s getting better every session.”

Early on, it was 1-0 and 2-1 leads for the only advantages game-long for the Desert Dogs, before the Roughnecks wrestled back the scoreboard and never relinquished it.

Dickson — scoring the first goal for the Riggers for the third-straight game — Currier, Hoggarth, Tanner Cook and King tallied in the first quarter for the hosts. And Tyler Pace, Shane Simpson and Hoggarth pushed it to 8-6 Roughnecks in the second frame.

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“It’s definitely good to get the first goal, obviously,” Dickson said. “But it’s just like, we’ve got to keep going. The first goal is definitely pretty nice — that’s just going through our plays and everything like that. Everyone’s working as a team, so it was good.

“We’ve been talking about with the team during the breaks in the dressing room and stuff like that. We always need to come out strong and give everything we’ve got.”

On the 7-5 goal, it was goaltender Christian Del Bianco with maybe the longest, most accurate pass he’s ever made, sending Simpson in alone for a beauty snipe in transition.

And the Roughnecks backstop got better as the game wore on in his crease, stopping 34 Dogs shots, including every one he faced in the fourth quarter, save for a late one by hat-trick-maker Casey Jackson.

At the other end late, Dickson added his third- and fourth goals of the affair sandwiched around Dan Taylor’s second of the season to ensure the victory over former teammate Kells, who made 29 saves for the visiting side.

“Obviously, we really really needed a win,” LeClair said. “The last couple of games have been rough in the second half of the game. It was hard for us to close them out, unfortunately. So it was nice to see us put together a full 60 minutes.”

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The win elevated the Riggers to 1-2, while the Dogs dropped to 1-3.

“I’m just really happy to be back on the home side, for sure,” added Sanderson, who enjoyed a sensational — and championship-winning — two-year-plus stretch as a star player with the Roughnecks 15 years ago. “I thought the crowd was great. I thought they really helped us with some momentum.

“Hats off to the crowd. It was just a great win for us. We’re going to enjoy New Year’s.”

Next up for the Roughnecks is a new-year visit to the West Coast to play former head coach Curt Malawsky and his Vancouver Warriors on Saturday, Jan. 13 (8 p.m.).

QUICK STICKS

First-half fisticuffs between assistant captains Eli Salama — of the Roughnecks — and Tor Reinholdt — of the Desert Dogs ignited the Dome crowd in the home opener. Winner? Salama, one of the toughest guys in the NLL … Scratches for the Roughnecks ahead of Saturday’s contest were D Kieran McKay and F Thomas Vela … D Robert Hudson (upper body), F Clay Scanlan (upper body) and F Logan Schuss (MCL/ACL) remain sidelined for the Riggers.

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