California lacrosse fans are in for a treat because some of the best rookies in the sport are pulling on Stealth uniforms for the new NLL season. Paul Rabil, Rhys Duch, Will Dalton, Kyle Hartzell, Brett Manney, Alex Turner and Mike Doneger are all on the 23-man roster.
The Stealth play their season opener at the HP Pavilion against the Calgary Roughnecks on Friday, Jan. 9, and all the young legs should make them one of the fastest teams in the 12-team league.
Paul Rabil was the second pick and Duch the third pick in the 2008 entry draft, and they should quickly become fan favorites.
Rabil, pronounced Ray-ble, was an impact player with the John Hopkins University varsity in his home state of Maryland and his six-foot-three, 225-pound build will make him tough to stop once he adapts to the indoor style of play.
``The box game is definitely different than field,’’ says Rabil. ``The biggest distraction for me is the weight and size of the equipment. In the field game, I wore minimal pads so that my movement was hardly limited. Because of the contact in the indoor game, it’s essential to be protected in the right areas, restricting a lot of movement I once had in the field game.’’
He was a four-time All-American pick at John Hopkins, and a top scholar, too, so he’s got the brains to figure out how to maximize his talents in NLL arenas. Playing in the pro field ranks last summer, he scored 24 goals for the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse. College ball, pro ball, whatever -- Inside Lacrosse magazine selected him 2008 player of the year in the sport.
Call him the Rabil Rouser.
``He’s a big, strong athlete with speed,’’ says head coach Jeff Dowling. ``We see him as a transition player who’ll run the floor and create opportunities for us out of the back end.’’
Dowling envisions Rabil becoming a durable standout in the mold of Jay Jalbert, who played a big role in Colorado’s march to the NLL title in 2006.
``I’m very excited for the challenges that lay ahead of us in 2009,’’ says Rabil. ``The guys on the team are very excited and the team mentality is very focused. It’s great being a part of such a great team in a great atmosphere.’’
The first thing to know about Rhys Duch is that his name is pronounced Reese Dutch. The second thing to know is that, besides being an NCAA star at Stony Brook U. on Long Island, he got a ton of indoor lacrosse experience growing up in the British Columbia capital of Victoria.
``He’s an extremely talented offensive player who can play any spot, with or without the ball,’’ says Dowling. ``He sees the floor well. And you love to get guys who’ve played box before getting to the NLL. He got a lacrosse scholarship to go to the States and now he comes into our league at a mature 23 rather than just coming out of junior. That’s big.’’
Duch, 5-11 and 200 pounds, has fit in so well that Dowling is using him on the power play.
``He’s been that impressive,’’ says Dowling.
The only advice Duch has for field specialists such as Rabil in adapting to the indoor game is to ``apply your lacrosse skills . . . try to notice the small habits and subtleties of the game that the guys with box experience have developed over the years.’’
Duch played for the senior Victoria Shamrocks in his home city last summer. Now, Duchee, as most teammates call him, says he’s going forward with a sense of ``pure excitement.’’
``Not only did I get drafted into a great organization but the guys that I am going to get to play with will not only give me an opportunity to succeed, but also an opportunity to continuously improve,’’ he says.
Will Dalton is a great story.
The 6-4, 270-pound defender out of the University of Maryland, where he was captain of the varsity, wasn’t selected in the entry draft, but Stealth assistant GM Doug Locker kept an eye on him and recommended he be given a tryout. Now he’s made the team.
He’s Big Baby. That’s what his new teammates have nicknamed him because of his size and baby-faced looks.
``He’s another one of our new guys with no box lacrosse experience but he’s picked up on it right away,’’ says Dowling. ``He’s a big, strong, faceoff guy.’’
His dad, Stephen Dalton, played for the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
Americans Kyle Hartzell, out of Salisbury U. in his home state of Maryland, Brett Manney, a Delaware U. standout, and Mike Doneger, a New Yorker who was Rabil’s teammate at John Hopkins, are three more Stealth rookies getting the crash course in the indoor game after knowing only NCAA field rules.
``He’s got a big upside,’’ Dowling says of Hartzell, who is 5-10 and 205. ``He’s fast and has a little bit of a mean streak.’’
Hartzell and Manney won’t have to wait long to get into their first game.
``He’s big, strong, fast and athletic,’’ Dowling says of Manney, a Pennsylvanian who is 6-3 and 225.
Dowling calls the 6-2, 210-pound Doneger ``a pleasant surprise.’’
Alex Turner is from Kamloops, British Columbia, and played field lacrosse at Simon Fraser U. in his home province as well as box with the junior New Westminister Salmonbellies. He played against Duch in the B.C. league.
Turner, an agile forward, ``seems to be willing to do all the little things to get into the lineup,’’ says Dowling.
It was a competitive training camp.
``All these guys have been all willing to do anything to learn the indoor game and get to play it,’’ says Dowling. ``Our U.S. guys are pushing the Canadian guys as hard as they can. Our hope is that all these guys pan out, and gives us a nucleus to build on. I think our rookie group will be a great nucleus to build on.’’
Dowling was an assistant coach with Calgary when it won the 2004 NLL title, and he was an assistant with the Buffalo Bandits when they won the championship last spring.
``It was almost as if the team was destined to win,’’ he says of the Bandits of 2008. ``It was their time. Everyone knew somebody would step up and get it done. It was great to see the players win it after working so hard for so many years.’’
Could he be part of another championship team in San Jose?
``Absolutely,’’ he says.
When he sees vets Colin Doyle and Jeff Zywicki busting their butts in practice, second-year attacker Frank Resetarits developing so quickly, and all the fresh young legs that GM Johnny Mouradian and Locker have brought in this winter, he knows big things are possible.
``This is a great opportunity to make some noise,’’ says Dowling.
Look for the Stealth rookies to make some loud statements on the floor.