We are one-eighth of the way through the 2010 season and the Stealth have opened up at 2-0. Heading into the season, many National Lacrosse League analysts had the Stealth ranked in the bottom half of the league. There were questions regarding the offense and replacing Colin Doyle and his 111 points from last season and questions out of the back door after the defensive unit was inconsistent last season. But so far so good for the Stealth, who have dominated all facets of the game early on.
The Stealth have come out of the gates strong, picking up convincing wins over the Colorado Mammoth (17-8) and the Edmonton Rush (15-7) in the first two weeks. Here are some reasons for the early success, and some things to look forward to as the season continues.
Much to the chagrin of local sponsor Brooklyn Brothers Pizza, the Stealth are leading the league in scoring at 16 goals per game. Brooklyn Brothers offers a free slice of pizza with a ticket stub if the Stealth eclipse the 15-goal mark at home games. So far: 2-for-2.
Colin who? All kidding aside, there’s no question how great a player Colin Doyle is and what he meant to the Stealth last season. But his absence, and the addition of some serious firepower have made the Stealth a deeper, more dangerous team. Against Colorado, ten players scored a goal and then against Edmonton, eight guys found the back of the net.
Jeff Zywicki is quieting all doubters who claimed he had a “down year” in 2009. He’s rebounded with a league-leading seven goals and is fourth on the points list with fourteen. Lewis Ratcliff, who came to the Stealth from Toronto in the Doyle trade, has been a force on the left side. He finds his open teammates (7 assists) and has no trouble tickling the twine himself (4 goals). His 11 points are tied for seventh in the league through two weeks. 2009 Rookie of the Year Rhys Duch has yet to suffer from any sophomore slump, recording four goals and six assists in two outings.
The addition of Luke Wiles to the lineup last week has added yet another dimension to the Stealth offense. “The Show” lived up to his nickname last weekend, finishing with a hat trick of highlight reel goals against Edmonton. It appears that the reunion of Wiles with Victoria Shamrock teammates Ratcliff and Duch will fit nicely into the NLL as well (FYI: the trio finished with a combined 275 points in 18 games last summer in the WLA).
Sprinkle in some Paul Rabil (2g, 5a), Cam Sedgwick (1g, 6a) and Tom Johnson (3g, 1a) and the Stealth offense is scary good.
Head Coach Chris Hall on the offense: “The early chemistry on offense is good and they are sharing the ball. If we continue that, we will continue to produce.”
One of the biggest differences for the Stealth in the young 2010 season has been transition play. The speed, athleticism and depth of the transition and defensive units have been a catalyst in the first two victories. Paul Rabil earned NLL Transition Player of the Week after a week one performance in which he scored two goals and added three assists and six loose balls. Rabil’s defense has been strong and his speed up the floor present the offense with chances on the run. Not to mention, he’s fourth on the Stealth in points with seven.
Also contributing to the transition game are Peter Morgan and captain Jason Bloom. The pair has combined for four goals and two assists and provide toughness and leadership on the defensive end. Bloom’s 14 loose balls are good for third on the Stealth behind Eric Martin (26) and Mike Grimes (20).
Speaking of Martin and Grimes, the two defensemen have been just as instrumental to the transition game as the guys labeled transition players. Jamison Koesterer is off to a solid start in the face-off circle, something the Stealth desperately needed after last year. He’s won over 55% of his draws this season (30 of 54), giving the potent Stealth offense more time with the ball.
Hall on the Stealth transition game: “We are getting transition goals from the entire back end, not just the transition players. Martin, Grimes and Beers have been a played a huge part in the transition game.”
Through two games, the Stealth are second in the league in goals allowed. The defense starts with the goaltending. Both of the Stealth’s goaltenders had impressive 2010 debuts and have subsequently found themselves among the top five in the league in goals against and save percentage. Tyler Richards shut down the Colorado offense in game one, allowing just eight goals on 53 shots. Matt Roik was equally as impressive in his first start against Edmonton, holding the Rush to just seven goals on 50 shots. Sure, the defense in front of the net has been stellar, but if you’ve seen the games, Richards and Roik have put on successive clinics between the pipes.
The boys coming out of the back door have proved to be a stronger unit than last season already. Martin and Grimes not only lead the Stealth in loose balls, but they are providing some offense as well. Grimes has two goals (including an incredible diving goal last week) and four assists while Martin has pitched in with a goal and five assists. Matt Beers has had a great start to his rookie campaign. On top of solid defense, he’s put up a goal and an assist and showed he won’t back down from a little confrontation on the floor. Kyle Sorensen has been the model of consistency sense he put on a Stealth uniform a few years ago, and this year is no different. He is the leader on the defensive end and it shows every shift.
Even with two of the team’s top D guys out with injury last week, Curtis Hodgson and Wade DeWolff stepped in and the defense didn’t miss a beat.
Last season, the Stealth penalty kill unit allowed the most power play goals in the league. This year, not so much. Opposing teams have converted on just one of ten extra man opportunities.
Hall on the defensive end of the floor: “First of all our goaltending has been superb. The defense has shown that they are athletic, aggressive and deep. They are putting a ton of pressure on offenses and creating a lot of turnovers.”
This weekend will provide a big test for the Stealth as they face two powerhouses of the National Lacrosse League on back-to-back nights. First, a struggling Buffalo Bandits squad visits the Comcast Arena on January 22. With an 0-2 record early on, the Bandits will be hungry for their first victory. On the next night, the Stealth travel to Calgary to take on the defending champs. The Roughnecks are also returning to action after a loss, so they too will be motivated in front of their home crowd.
“The doubleheader gives these players that haven’t seen time the opportunity to get on the floor,” said Hall about the upcoming weekend. “We are still in the phase of trying to find out what’s our best lineup. We’re lucky to be 2-0 right now.”
All things considered, we have only played two games in the 2010 season. In the National Lacrosse League, things can go downhill in a hurry. But after two games, the Stealth are flying high after a great start to 2010.