Wow. The 2010 Washington Stealth season is just a few days away. It seems like only yesterday the 2009 campaign was wrapping up down in San Jose. But the offseason brought about some changes, none bigger than the Stealth’s move north to the State of Washington.
So here we are in our new home. The boys in Red and Black have gone through preseason training camp and the coaching staff has cut the roster down to 23 players. They take the floor for the first time on January 9 at the Comcast Arena to take on the Colorado Mammoth. Here are some names you need to know as you watch the games as well as what to expect from each position.
The Stealth finished the 2009 regular season as the third highest scoring team in the NLL with 200 goals scored. The offense is going to look a bit different this season with the absence of Colin Doyle, who was traded to Toronto this offseason, but there will still be a ton of firepower on the floor.
On the right side, the Stealth return 2009 Rookie of the Year Rhys Duch, who broke the rookie scoring record last season with 89 points (35g, 54a). Duch was also named to the NLL All-Rookie Team after recording less than five points in a game only three times. Three-time All-Star Jeff Zywicki is back for his sixth NLL season. In what some called a “down year”, Zywicki posted 78 points (32g, 46a) in 2009, good for 14th in the league. Zywicki is one of the NLL’s elite goal scorers, especially on the power play where he led the league with 17 goals last season.
The only other righty among the forwards is rookie Kory Kowalyk. Kowalyk had a strong training camp and his size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and strength will prove to be a big asset on the offensive end of the floor. Recently signed forward Luke Wiles could be a factor a few games into the season. Wiles recorded 69 points (33g, 36a) with Toronto last season and will be reunited with Victoria Shamrocks teammates Duch and Lewis Ratcliff, who were among the top four scorers in the Western Lacrosse Association last summer.
Speaking of Ratcliff, he headlines the left side of the offense, joining the Stealth this offseason in the Doyle trade. Ratcliff finished 2009 with 68 points (34g, 34a) in Toronto. His wide range of offensive weapons will give opposing defenses fits, and with a plethora of talent around him, Ratcliff could return to the form that put up 104 points with Calgary in 2007.
Returning to the Stealth for his ninth pro season is Cam Sedgwick. One of the Stealth captains this year, Sedgwick recorded a career-high 63 points (23g, 40a) in 2009. The crafty vet will be the leader of the offense on the floor and his .215 shooting percentage will come in handy, too. Third-year forward Tom Johnson also returns to the Stealth this season after posting 33 points (20g, 13a) in 2009. Johnson has a nose for the goal and will bring fans to their feet with his patented diving goals. Rookie Joel Dalgarno will make an immediate impact on the Stealth offense. The seventh round pick in the 2009 NLL Entry Draft by Toronto, he was included in the Dole trade along with Ratcliff and Tyler Codron. Dalgarno left Ohio State University as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“Ratcliff, Zywicki and Duch will be forces on offense,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “Our philosophy changes without Doyle, but we still have a great deal of talent on that end of the floor. We will need to build a cohesive, sharing unit and we have the players to do just that.”
X-Factor: Fans can also expect to see a lot of 2009 NLL All-Rookie Team member Paul Rabil on the offensive end. Rabil finished 2009 with 34 points (16g, 18a), but with just a year of indoor lacrosse under his belt, he has yet to reach his full potential. “Paul Rabil is on the verge of exploding in this league,” said Hall. “In training camp you can really see he’s starting to understand the game. He is a phenomenal athlete and an incredibly talented lacrosse player.”
The Stealth bolstered their transition game this offseason with the acquisition of Jason Bloom from Boston, Jamison Koesterer from Buffalo and Peter Morgan via the Portland Dispersal Draft. Bloom has been named captain of the team after a strong training camp. In 16 games last season with Boston, Bloom recorded career-highs in goals (13), assists (10), points (23) and loose balls (60). His lacrosse IQ and strong defensive skills make him one of the most complete players in the NLL. Koesterer is in his second NLL season after spending his rookie campaign with the now defunct Portland Lumberjax. He emerged as the team’s top face-off man last year, winning over 55% of his draws. His size (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) will make him a force on the defensive end of the floor. Morgan is another big athlete (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) that will make an impact on both ends of the floor. He finished with 53 points (29g, 24a) last season with the Lumberjax. Morgan and fellow transition player Rabil will provide the Stealth with a pair of big bodies that can move the ball up the floor and attack on the offensive end.
The Stealth transition unit also returns second-year man Kyle Hartzell who in 12 games last season, picked up 86 loose balls. Rookie Ben Hunt is an offensive threat, and at 6-foot-5, will supply another big body on the defensive end.
X-Factor: Koesterer will be the primary face-off man for the Stealth this season. In his second NLL season, he will provide the Stealth with consistency in the face-off circle.
“We really improved our size, speed and athleticism in the transition game,” said Hall. We’ve added a strong face-off guy in Koesterer and Peter Morgan is a very valuable and intelligent player that can play anywhere on the floor.”
The Stealth defense was a focal point of the coaching staff this offseason. While a number of guys in the transition unit will play a role out of the back door, the Stealth return a strong core on defense. Assistant captain Kyle Sorensen is in his fourth NLL season, but shows the maturity of a 10-year vet. His high lacrosse IQ makes him an incredible team defender, and his 97 loose balls last season was good for second on the Stealth. Eric Martin will continue to be a pest for opposing offenses. He is one of the more physical defensemen in the league and a former All-Star. He will also play a role in the transition game with his 100 loose balls and ability to finish on the offensive end: he recorded 18 points (6g, 12a) last season. Travis Gillespie, Mike Grimes and Curtis Hodgson also return, providing a great deal of experience, along with the athletic Brett Manney, who in his second NLL season has a chance to become an elite defenseman after a solid rookie campaign.
Rookies Matt Beers and Wade DeWolff provide even more size at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot4, respectively. Beers was selected 13th overall in the 2009 NLL Entry Draft and DeWolff developed into one of the WLA’s top defenseman with the Mann Cup finalist New Westminster Salmonbellies last summer.
X Factor: The Stealth penalty kill unit in 2009 allowed the most power play goals in the league (51). The right mix of experience and youthful athleticism will help bring that goals allowed total down from a year ago.
“We have added considerable depth on the defensive end,” said Hall. “That’s what we were lacking a year ago. On paper I see drastic improvements out of the back door, and we have the talent to translate that onto the field.”
The Stealth return arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league. NLL All-Rookie Team member Tyler Richards burst onto the scene at the end of last year, and followed that up with an exceptional campaign with New Westminster last summer. He finished the 2009 NLL season ranked second in goals against average at 10.08 goals allowed per game. Along with him in both Stealth and Salmonbellies uniforms is Matt Roik. The former All-Star has been a number one goaltender for a number of teams and in his ninth year, provides the experience to compliment Richards’ youth. The pair finished 1-2 in the WLA goaltender rankings as they lead New Westminster to its second straight Mann Cup final last summer.
“I feel very comfortable with either of these guys in the net,” said Hall. “Not too many coaches in this league are fortunate to have two number one goalies in their locker room.”
In the eleven-team National Lacrosse League, there are no easy outs. The Stealth begin the season with three straight home games and four games in the first 15 days of the season. The West Division boasts the reigning NLL Champion in the Calgary Roughnecks, a team the Stealth face twice on the road. They also have a four-game series with heated rival Colorado, the first of which takes place opening night at the Comcast Arena. The Stealth also face all four East Division playoff teams from a year ago.
“The opening stretch is incredibly important to us,” said Hall. “It is critical to come away with a good record, especially with three division games in the first three weeks. The first game is as important as the last in this league.”