The Washington Stealth (1-1) are back in action this weekend as they take on West Division foe Minnesota Swarm on Friday night at the Comcast Arena at Everett. The teams will face each other for the first time since the first round of the 2010 National Lacrosse League playoffs, when the Stealth earned a 14-11 victory en route to the NLL Championship.
The Swarm (0-1) opened their 2011 season last weekend with an 11-10 overtime loss to the Rochester Knighthawks. The Swarm was led offensively by Ryan Benesch with five points (2g, 3a) and Andrew Watt, who recorded his first career hat-trick. Goaltender Nick Patterson made 27 saves in the loss.
“Minnesota is an improved team from a year ago,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “They have a lot of firepower up front and did a good job improving the back end in the offseason. “
In 2010, the Swarm had the league’s fourth-highest scoring offense, featuring three players among the NLL’s top ten point-getters. Callum Crawford, who finished with two goals and two assists last weekend, tallied a career-high 96 points (32g, 64a) in 2010, good for third in the NLL. Aaron Wilson finished fifth in the league with 89 points (40g, 49a) and Benesch had 83 points (28g, 55a), the ninth-highest total in the league.
The Swarm bolstered their defense in the offseason with the additions of hard-nosed defender Rory Smith through the Orlando Titans dispersal draft and rookie transition player Andrew Suitor, the fourth overall pick in the most recent NLL Entry Draft. The Swarm will look to those additions to improve on a defense that allowed a league-worst 12.5 goals per game a season ago.
The Stealth got the 2011 season off to a good start with an 11-10 overtime win against the Colorado Mammoth on January 8. The second leg of the opening weekend double-header was a different story, however, as the Calgary Roughnecks visited the Comcast Arena on January 9 and handed the Stealth a 13-11 loss.
“All these division games to start the year have a big impact on the standings and in a 16-game season, it’s important that we play well early on,” said Hall. “We will be working hard to fix the fundamental things we didn’t execute last weekend.”
The Stealth will have to improve on those things without the help of one of their top scorers in Jeff Zywicki. Zywicki was placed on the injured reserve list this week as a result of a lower body injury sustained in Colorado. He was a big part of the Stealth’s season-opening victory, tallying three goals and two assists.
Expected to pick up the slack will be 2010 second team All-Pros Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch. Both players had big performances in week one, Duch completing a hat-trick with the overtime winner in Colorado, and Ratcliff tallying five goals and two assists in the loss to Calgary. The pair is ranked in the top two in NLL scoring after the first weekend. The Stealth will also look to right-handed forward Luke Wiles, who has four points (2g, 2a) in 2011, to provide more offense on the right side.
Defensively, the Stealth got two solid performances out of goaltender Matt Roik, who currently ranks fifth in the NLL with a .782 save percentage. Reigning transition player of the week Paul Rabil currently leads the league with 23 loose balls to go with a pair of assists.
The Washington Stealth and Minnesota Swarm will face-off at the Comcast Arena at Everett on Friday, January 14 at 8pm. Tickets start at just $13 and are available now by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or by visiting www.stealthlax.com.