They may not get all the headlines after a game, but that is the life of an NLL defender and they are perfectly fine with it. Their focus is not how many goals, assists, or points they put up each night. The only statistics that they take pride in are loose balls, caused turnovers, and at the end of the night, a win. Like the old saying goes: ‘Offense wins games, but Defense wins championships’.
This year’s unit tasked to help keep the ball out of the net is a veteran group that has combined for over 600 NLL regular season games. Three have over 100 games experience, led by Captain Curtis Hodgson with 179, while Jeff Moleski and Ian Hawksbee trail behind at 159 and 125 respectively. Rounding out the defense core are familiar faces in Chris O’Dougherty, Matt Beers, Rory Smith (injured reserve), and rookie Brier Jonathan. The 22 year-old Jonathan is the youngest on the active roster and will be making his NLL debut this season after signing as a free-agent in October of 2015. Rookie Ryan Wagner will begin the season on the practice roster.
In transition, every player has experience in the NLL, but is still a relatively young group, with Mitch McMichael being the oldest at just 27 years. Rounding out the remaining four spots on the active roster are Brandon Clelland, Travis Cornwall, Tyler Garrison, and Justin Salt. Tyler Hass begins on injured reserve, while Jarrett Toll is on the practice roster.
“I feel we have improved our defensive IQ and added more depth with our free-agent signings. Our group has an effective balance of cagey veteran defenders and athletic transition guys that can really run as well,” said Captain Curtis Hodgson. “We have a good crop of returning players and I feel having guys that have played together and have already developed chemistry is an advantage in this league.”
The players on defense have well over 10 combined Champions Cups appearances to their names with Beers, Hodgson, and Moleski all winning a championship. Cornwall, Garrison, and Salt also have Champions Cup experience among the transition players. Stealth Head Coach Dan Perreault likes that experience and is a big fan of how his defense and transition line-up looks going into opening night.
“I think we have a good balance overall. We got a good mix of veteran guys, who have been in the league for a while, but we also have some younger guys that will have the opportunity to learn from them throughout the season. I like what I have seen from them in practices and exhibition as they have developed into a nice cohesive unit and hope it carries over into the regular season.”
Out of the 13 defense/transition roster spots (including practice roster), only five were not a part of the team a season ago, but Coach Perreault feels this year’s group has a different look to it.
“There is some different personnel this season. I believe we are quicker on the ball and it seems like we are competing a bit more, which has been great to see. The guys have been putting in a great deal of effort at each practice, and as a coach, that is all you can ask for.”
The Stealth kick off their 2016 NLL Season this Saturday at the Langley Events Centre when they host the New England Black Wolves. Game time is 7:00pm. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster or by visiting the Langley Events Centre ticket office.