The 2010 National Lacrosse League Champion Washington Stealth begins its title defense this weekend with a pair of games on the opening weekend of the 2011 schedule. The Stealth travels to Denver, Colo., on Saturday to take on the Colorado Mammoth, followed by the home opener on Sunday against the Calgary Roughnecks.
Back-to-back games at any point of the grueling NLL season is difficult, but opening the season with two games in two days is a test for the Stealth. When asked what he hoped to get out of the weekend, Head Coach Chris Hall simply answered, “I’m hoping to get two wins.”
The Stealth opens the season in Colorado, which went 4-12 a year ago including 0-8 at home. But the 2011 version of the Mammoth is much different than the team the Stealth beat four times last season. Just 12 players from 2010 return to Colorado, including its top three scorers Jamie Shewchuk (66 pts in 2010), Brian Langtry (65) and Alex Gajic (48).
The Mammoth added to their offensive firepower this offseason in one of the biggest trades in NLL history, acquiring perennial All-Pro John Grant from the Rochester Knighthawks. Grant finished ninth in NLL scoring a year ago, tallying 39 goals and 44 assists for 83 points in 15 games last season.
“Colorado is always a difficult place to play,” said Hall. “The defending champions going there to start the season after they didn’t win a home game last season will give them plenty of motivation. They reloaded and are a talented group ready to play.”
The home opener will take place Sunday night at 5:00pm against Calgary. Both teams will be playing the second leg of the doubleheader weekend, with Calgary playing at home against the Buffalo Bandits the previous night.
The Roughnecks also have a new-look roster, returning 13 players from the 2010 squad that went 10-6 during the regular season. Their offseason was highlighted by the acquisition of hard-nosed transition player Geoff Snider, who led the NLL with 245 loose balls and 295 face-off wins for the Philadelphia Wings a year ago. He also contributed to the offense with 41 points (19g, 22a) in 16 regular season games.
Calgary will need Snider’s offense to account for some of the 104 points they lost in an offseason trade of the NLL’s top point-getter, Josh Sanderson. They do return three 50-point scorers from 2010 however, in Dane Dobbie (80), Scott Ranger (51) and Jeff Shattler (51). They also reloaded with three first round draft picks in the 2010 NLL Entry Draft, two of which they used to select Canadian Junior ‘A’ offensive superstars Curtis Dickson and Brandon Ivey.
“There’s no doubt we will have a target on our backs in every game this season,” said Hall, who led the Roughnecks to the NLL title in 2004. “If we are good enough to be the champions again, we need to go out and prove it.”
For the Stealth, they return 20 players from the 2010 championship squad, including all of the league’s highest-scoring offense. Led by Champion’s Cup MVP Lewis Ratcliff, the league’s top goal-scorer a year ago and NLL champion with the Roughnecks in 2004, the Stealth has four players that recorded at least 50 points last season. Ratcliff finished second in the NLL with 97 points (46g, 51a), fellow All-Pro Rhys Duch had 86 (33g, 53a), Jeff Zywicki with 71 (30g, 41a) and Cam Sedgwick with 58 (22g, 36a).
The Stealth bolstered their defense in the offseason, which was led by the goaltender tandem of Tyler Richards and Matt Roik. They added to an already stellar cast with the offseason acquisitions of Jeff Moleski, Chris McElroy and Chet Koneczny. Moleski spent his six previous NLL seasons with Calgary.
Both of this weekend’s games will be broadcast live on the NLL Network at NLL.com. Tickets for the Stealth’s home opener at the Comcast Arena on Sunday, January 9 are available now by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.