EVERETT, Wash. – After a pre-season of bolstering a veteran lineup that has enjoyed NLL championship game appearances in two of the past three seasons, the Washington Stealth are poised to make a run back to the top of the NLL as the team faces the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks in the season opener, Saturday at Everett’s Comcast Arena. Game time is 6:45 p.m.
Bigger, faster and stronger, coach Chris Hall’s squad is teed-up to turn the page in 2013 and make a run at the post season. A run that begins with the defending league champions, which have dominated the all-time series against the Stealth 11-4 dating back to the organization’s time in both San Jose, Calif. and Albany, N.Y.
For Hall, the Stealth’s success in the coming year — and Saturday night’s opener, will rely heavily on the output of his veteran forwards Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch and Athan Iannucci, along with a retooled defensive unit.
As two of the most potent threats for the Stealth, Ratcliff and Duch accounted for two thirds of the offense in last February’s meeting with Rochester in New York, which the Stealth dropped 15 – 12 after giving up a slim lead in the fourth.
“There is a lot less taken for granted this year,” said Ratcliff, who despite finishing 2012 with a team best and seventh ranked league wide 36 goals to go along with 40 assists, wasn’t satisfied with the finish.
“Last year showed us how tough the league is,” said Ratcliff. “There is a new hunger and attitude in working our way back to the top.”
A Victoria, B.C. native, Ratcliff is entering the 11th year of an impressive NLL career. During his first 10 seasons, the 6-1, 200 pound five-time All-Star has scored 380 goals and 442 assists crossing over the 800-point mark last season. Averaging just over five goals per game, Ratcliff has 822 career points and could flirt with the 900 mark this season.
It’s that output that will help the Stealth in the season opener and could propel the Washington state squad into the post season, and another shot at the NLL title.
“To get off on the right foot this year is going to be huge. Rochester is a tough challenge and it’s something that everyone has been talking about since last April,” said Ratcliff. “Everyone is ready to go.”
Duch, who finished 2012 with 33 goals and led the Stealth in both assists and points where he finished with 46 and 79 respectively, is also expected to make an impact. The 5-11, 200-pound two-time All-Star who over a four-year career has averaged just over five-and-a-half points per game, finished the 2012 season ranked eighth in points and tenth in assists league wide.
Against the Knighthawks, the Victoria, B.C. native, has tallied 11 career goals and 13 assists for 24 points (6 PPG) against the squad, while Ratcliff has delivered 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points (5.25 PPG) in eight games playing with Calgary, Toronto and now the Stealth.
Iannucci also brings a formidable offensive threat to Stealth opponents, producing just over four-and-a-half points per game. Throughout his first five years in the NLL, the 6-4, 215 pound right hander from Port Moody, B.C. logged 174 goals and 123 assists for 297 points in 65 regular season games.
Forward Brett Bucktooth is also no stranger to this team from his five seasons with the Buffalo Bandits. In his ten meetings with the Knighthawks, Bucktooth has scored twelve goals and nine assists and will look to use his familiarity with the Rochester team to his advantage on Saturday.
With the new season the Stealth have shaken things up to improve production where it struggled a year ago on both offense and defense finishing seventh out of nine in both categories.
The Stealth has also revamped its roster with eight key additions, five coming on the defensive side. Second round picks Tyler Garrison and Justin Pychel, third round pick Tim Henderson and rookie free agents David Joyce and Patrick O’Meara will join a veteran core of defenseman in Matt Beers, Jeff Moleski, Curtis Hodgson, Kyle Sorensen, Mike Grimes, Chris O’Dougherty and Chris McElroy.
The Stealth also acquired Kyle Buchanan in the sixth round, rookie transition man Mitch McMichael as well as the veteran all-star goalie Nick Patterson to back up Tyler Richardson.
“I think they’ll (Stealth Rookies) be ready to play, they are highly energized and highly motivated,” said Hall. “In my experience, a rookie’s first game in the pro league usually they excel and sometimes play above their capabilities.”
The Stealth also hope that key offensive additions from last season will now to start to click with the offense now that the team has had time to gel over the course of the second half of last season and this year’s training camp sessions.
“Our offense is a work in progress,” said Hall. “Towards the end of the year last year in the last couple of games it started to look like it was coming around, we scored a lot of goals in our last couple of games and I think it’s only going to improve.”
During the off-season with the retirement and transition to coaching duties for Jason Bloom, the Stealth tapped defender Kyle Sorensen to take-on the captain role in 2013.
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill, (Jason’s) one of the most respected guys in the league,” said Sorensen, who along with assistants captains Duch and Mike Grimes will provide proven leadership melding veterans with new talent on the Comcast Arena floor. “It’s something I’ve strived to do my whole life and it’s a challenge I’m willing to take and I’m looking forward to it.”
After five grueling pre-season training camp sessions where no roster spot was safe, the Stealth are ready to prove that they are ready to for prosperity in 2013 – a standing that the squad and its fans came to expect in its first two years in Washington state.
“We are chomping at the bit,” said Sorensen. “We are one of the only teams that didn’t get to play an exhibition game against another team so we’re ready to get at it and play against somebody else rather than ourselves.”
Saturday’s home opener will be a tough test for the new-look Stealth as they contend with a powerful Knighthawks squad that is coming into 2103 with plenty of momentum from last year’s championship run.
The Knighthawks not only will return its core from 2012 but have become even stronger with the addition of forwards Casey Powell and Dan Dawson as well as Dan’s brother Paul on defense.
“I expect a very tough opening game obviously as defending champs they are a great team and they added two big pieces with Dawson and Powell,” said Hall.
Each standing at 6-5, 225, the Dawson brothers, with 11-year vet and one of the NLL’s premiere play-making forwards in the older Dan along with the younger defender Paul, are among the most powerful sibling combinations in the league.
“They’ve got a ton of fire power in their offense and I’m expecting an incredibly tough opening match,” said Hall.
The Stealth begins its fourth season of play in Washington State with its 2013 home-opener against the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks at 6:45 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 5 at Everett’s Comcast Arena. Ticket packages for all eight Stealth home games start at just $99 and are on sale now. To learn more call 977-MY-75-TIX or visit www.stealthlax.com Washington Stealth… it’s like hockey with balls.
LAX SHORTS – Puget Sound Tribal Communities Provided Tickets for Opening Night
With traditions seated deeply in Native American and First Nation’s culture, lacrosse is widely considered North America’s first sport.
On opening night, the Stealth will welcome tribal members from 13 Native American communities across the Puget Sound region, Idaho and Montana in celebration of the game of lacrosse. During halftime, select tribal members will perform a traditional “Plains-Style Round Dance” to signify healing and unity of inter-tribal relationships and honor the game of lacrosse.
Tickets for local Native American communities were provided by the Washington Stealth, which has two players of Native American and First Nation’s descent on its roster and Rochester Knighthawks owner Curt Styers. Styers is believed to be the first person of Native American heritage – from Six Nations of Mohawk descent, to own a professional sports franchise.
Native American communities to be in attendance:
Olympia / Shelton Area: Nisqually, Skokomish, Squaxin Island
Kitsap Peninsula: Suquamish
Everett / Marysville Area: Tulalip
Seattle / Eastside Area: Duwamish, Snoqualmie
Coastal Washington: Quinault
Chehalis / Centralia Area: Chehalis
Tacoma / Puyallup Area: Puyallup, Muckleshoot
Idaho: Coeur d’Alene