The National Lacrosse League trade deadline was yesterday, and things were relatively quiet around the league. With the Stealth leading the West at 7-3 and getting some players back from injury in the coming weeks, it’s no surprise that General Manager Doug Locker and Head Coach Chris Hall are going to stick with the horses that got them this far.
“We liked everything about this team early in the season and felt it was a championship caliber club,” said Locker after the trade deadline. “Nothing has changed. In fact the adversity we faced in February has only made us a stronger, more determined team with a lot more guys who have been significant contributors. At the end of the day, we decided we wanted to stay with the guys we have because we believe they have what it takes to bring the Champion’s Cup to Washington. “
The trade deadline may have been a little different had the Stealth not escaped Calgary with a huge win last weekend. Had the Stealth lost to Calgary, they would be sitting in third place, lost the tiebreaker to the Roughnecks and riding a four-game losing streak. In the NLL, one goal can make all the difference for any team at any time.
Instead, the Stealth was able to weather a storm of injuries and suspensions and is looking at the final six games with an increasingly improving roster.
First of all, Mike Grimes and Matt Beers have served their respective one-game suspensions resulting from the bench-clearing brawl at Minnesota a month ago. They will be back in action for the home-and-home weekend against the Colorado Mammoth on March 26 and 27.
Grimes also missed a pair of January games with an injury, but when he’s in the lineup he has been one of the Stealth’s top defensemen. He has played a big role in the Stealth transition game, recording seven points in seven games this year. He is also a major piece in the Stealth’s league-leading penalty kill unit and is one of five Stealth players with 50 or more loose balls.
Beers has been one of the league’s top rookies this season, providing another physical presence out of the Stealth back door. He’s not afraid to scrap with the league’s heavy hitters, has added to the Stealth’s offense with a goal and three assists and is fourth on the squad with 53 loosies.
On the injury front, the Stealth is happy to have Brett Manney’s size and athleticism back on the floor. Manney emerged as one of the league’s best young defensemen last season, but an elbow injury on opening night sidelined him for seven games. Every week, his health improves and so does his play.
One of the biggest pieces the Stealth will have back for the Colorado games next week is Assistant Captain Kyle Sorensen. Sorensen has been on the injured reserve since early February, all three Stealth losses coming with him on the shelf. Last year, he equaled his career high with 12 points and set a career high with 97 loose balls in 16 regular season games. He was hot out of the gates this season again with a goal, three assists and 26 loose balls in January. Aside from the stats, the intangibles that Sorensen brings to the Stealth defense are immeasurable. He is the vocal leader and the best team defender on the team. He is also the anchor of the Stealth penalty kill.
“Sorrie is a leader, even though he’s young,” Hall said of the Stealth Assistant Captain, who is in his fourth NLL season. “He’s been in some battles already and played for some championship level teams. We’ve missed his leadership, passion and fire for the game. And while everyone in the Stealth organization has missed having him on the floor, no one missed it more than Kyle.”
The final returnee has yet to see the floor this season, but his reputation around the league precedes him. Tyler Codron, one-third of the trio that came to Everett in the Colin Doyle trade prior to the season, is looking forward to a return to the floor in mid-April. Codron suffered a knee injury playing football for the University of British Columbia last fall. After two NLL seasons, he has earned the reputation as one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league. His athleticism gives him the ability to get up and down the floor, and he can get involved offensively, recording eight goals and 17 assists in 32 career games.
“Everyone in the NLL has a lot of respect for [Codron] and adding him to our defense will make us that much better,” Hall added on the possibility of Codron coming back from injury. “You link him up with the guys we already have out there and our back end is pretty darn good. Having him for the playoffs would be a huge asset.”
There has been one benefit to the Stealth battling the injury bug this season: the young players have been able to get some much-needed experience on the floor. “Essentially five starters from our defense were out at times for various reasons,” said Hall. “We had to go to the young guys sooner than we expected, but they stepped up to the challenge.”
Guys like Chris O’Dougherty, who played in his first NLL game last week, and Kory Kowalyk, a rookie forward forced to play out of the back door, made a big impact on the floor last weekend. “O’Dougherty was fantastic in his debut and we can expect a lot from him as he continues to learn the indoor game,” said Hall. “And even though Kory [Kowalyk] is listed as an offensive guy, he has the size, toughness and heart to play on the back end and he showed how well he knows and understands the defensive game.”
With Grimes, Beers and Sorensen returning to the lineup against Colorado, it might mean the young guys have to step aside, but now Hall and his coaching staff know they have guys they can turn to.
“Getting [Grimes, Beers and Sorensen] back will improve our experience on defense, no question. But the young guys will get opportunities again and they now know what it takes to play in this league. It’s nice to know you’ve got great troops in reserve and guys we can count on when we need them.”
While the trade deadline has passed, NLL teams have until tomorrow to announce their final rosters for the season. Stay tuned to www.stealthlax.com to find out what moves the Stealth makes as they move forward towards the playoffs.