With home opener on tap, new Roughnecks coach working towards 'another banner'

Josh Sanderson wants a championship — or two — to pair with his one as player for Riggers

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Josh Sanderson loves to look up at the Calgary Roughnecks championship banners hanging from the rafters of the Dome.

The one that catches his eye the most?

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That’s easy …

It’s the 2009 one, since he was an integral part of that National Lacrosse League crowning.

“I always look for the banners up top, to be honest,” said the Roughnecks new head coach, who finally gets to introduce himself in person to fans during Saturday’s tilt against the Las Vegas Desert Dogs at Scotiabank Saddledome (7 p.m. ET, TSN+).

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“There was a game last year or the year before when they weren’t up, so I actually texted a buddy of mine, and he texted (Roughnecks GM) Mike Board and said something. Because for me, I like seeing them up there.”

But another banner — one in the near future?

That would be all the more sentimental for the Riggers legend.

After all, not many can claim championships as both a player and a coach for the same franchise.

At 0-2 to start this year’s schedule, however, there is some work to do, beginning with the home opener against the 1-2 Desert Dogs on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome.

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“We’re turning the page, and obviously, we can’t get those losses back,” said Sanderson, who was hired in August to take over for long-time bench boss Curt Malawsky after he left to take on a similar gig with his home-town Vancouver Warriors. “So we just got to do whatever we can to make sure we’re improving and take care of business on our home opener. Definitely a lot of prep for Vegas. And then, obviously we’re still trying to correct some things we’re trying to get better.

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“To be honest, I think the first game we had a real good road game going (against the Rochester Knighthawks), and then we took the foot off the gas. Whether that was at home or on the road, you’ve got to play full 60 minutes, and we got away from our game, so that hurt us.

“And then, I thought we played a real good San Diego team on the road, and it was 9-9 going into the fourth quarter. And they obviously got us in the fourth. I did think we made improvements there. But we’re getting the results we deserve right now.”

Perhaps coming home will help flip that script.

It usually does for any edition of the Roughnecks, who are among the league’s all-time best when it comes to playing on a home floor.

“Yeah, for sure,” continued Sanderson. “We’re really excited to get home in front of our fans. There’s no doubt we haven’t been in Calgary a lot and we’re definitely excited to play our first game at home and play our best game so far.

“I loved playing in the Dome, personally, as a visitor. And then obviously I loved to be a part of the home team in my stretch. So it’s just a special place for me. It’s just I like the arena, and obviously, our fans are great, and we can use that to our advantage.”

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Indeed, Sanderson knows it well — first-hand — from a player’s vantage point.

During his two-plus years with the Roughnecks, the man known as ‘Shooter’ had his two most productive seasons point-wise in a decorated 19-year NLL career. His last campaign here — in 2010 — was his best, as he totalled 34 goals and 104 points.

But it was the year before that held all the magic for Sanderson and the Roughnecks, when they won the 2009 NLL crown to cap a season that saw Shooter count 74 assists — as part of a 103-point season — breaking his own single-season league record for helpers.

Of course, the championship final that followed is his standout memory from his time with the Riggers.

“We played a very good New York Titans team that was very athletic,” Sanderson said. “We knew we really had our hands full, but it was a hard-fought (12-10) game (at the Dome).

“Kaleb Toth’s goal from centre with basically no time left in the first half rings a bell with me, as do some of our other guys with huge goals (including two from each of Bruce Codd and Dane Dobbie) throughout the game. Honestly, it was just one of those tough championship finals, and we were lucky to come out on top.”

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Sanderson himself was a lynch-pin, with two goals and five points in the final — the second-ever championship captured by the Roughnecks.

“I played pretty good,” recalled Sanderson. “I thought our whole offence played really good — everybody chipped in, which was kind of the story of our team. Goaltending, defence and offence all were really good in that final and key in finding a way to win against a very good team.

“And the place was crazy, and it really took off when we got an empty-netter late,” continued Sanderson. “The goalie was running back in, and we shot it from just over centre, I believe, and it was kind of on the wrong side, so it was a tough angle. As soon as that went in, we had a rough idea — and so did the fans — that we were going to end up on top in that one, so the Dome really exploded after that goal.”

Here’s hoping it does again someday soon for Sanderson and the Roughnecks.

“We are getting closer each week,” added Sanderson. “Let’s start with a win — and that starts (Saturday). Let’s make it special.

“And we’ll work towards getting another banner up there — if not more — before the new arena.”

QUICK STICKS

No lineup changes for the Roughnecks scheduled ahead of the game against the Desert Dogs … D Robert Hudson (upper body), F Clay Scanlan (upper body) and F Logan Schuss (MCL/ACL) remain sidelined for the Riggers … The Desert Dogs come into this contest off an ugly pre-Christmas loss — 17-5 — to the visiting Saskatchewan Rush (1-2).

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