Here we go. Training camp is over and the chase for the Champion’s Cup is on. The San Jose Stealth get the 2009 National Lacrosse League regular season underway with a pair of West Division games on January 9 and 10. The Stealth take on the Calgary Roughnecks at the HP Pavilion on Friday night at 7:30pm, then travel to Minnesota the next day for a 5:00pm (PST) game in Minneapolis. The games will be broadcast live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.
With a number of offseason acquisitions and a strong 2008 NLL Draft that brought second overall pick Paul Rabil to town, the Stealth are poised to improve on their Western Division Semifinal appearance a year ago.
First-year Head Coach Jeff Dowling will begin his coaching career with the Stealth against his former team: he was an assistant coach with the Roughnecks when they won the Champion’s Cup in 2004. The Head Coach of that team - Stealth assistant coach Chris Hall. Fortunately, they inherit a bulked up line-up that has seen dramatic changes from a year ago. The 2009 Stealth will pride themselves on size, strength and athleticism.
Returning to the Stealth for 2009 is a host of veterans that will provide a great deal of leadership for the youngsters joining the squad. The biggest name in that group is Captain Colin Doyle, an eleven-time NLL All-Star and the 2005 NLL MVP. He finished second in the league with 61 assists in 2008. Teaming up with Doyle to create the most potent one-two offensive punch in the league is Jeff Zywicki. Zywicki was an All-Star in 2008, finishing second in the league with 47 goals. The aforementioned duo finished among the top six individually in the NLL in points last season.
Defensively, the Stealth are led by Eric Martin, a 2008 All-Star who finished fourth in the NLL with 151 loose balls and is among the best on-ball defenders in the league. The elder statesman of the defensive group is Assistant Captain, Curtis Hodgson. Hodgson is in his fifth year and has played every game for the Stealth in that time.
The goaltender position is up for grabs with three capable vets ready to step in and manage the crease. Matt Roik, who was acquired from the Chicago Shamrox in the offseason, is in his eighth season in the NLL. He was recently named one of the NLL’s Top 50 players by NLL Insider after a 2008 campaign where he finished fourth among the league’s goalies in save percentage. Fighting with him for playing time is Aaron Bold, who was the Stealth backup goalie for the past two seasons behind All-Star Anthony Cosmo, and 2008 Western Lacrosse Association (Canada) Goalie of the Year, Tyler Richards.
Paul Rabil headlines an exciting group of newcomers for the 2009 Stealth. Rabil’s accolades are no secret among the lacrosse community: four-time All-American, two-time National Champion, Tewaaraton Trophy finalist – it’s a long list. He and fellow American rookies Will Dalton, Brett Manney, Kyle Hartzell and Michael Doneger will have to make a smooth transition from the field to the indoor game if the Stealth are going to be in the hunt for the Champion’s Cup. Don’t forget Rhys Duch (pronounced Reese Dutch), who was the third overall pick in the 2008 NLL Draft out of Victoria, British Columbia. The Canadian is already acclimated to the indoor game and proved that fact in the Stealth’s preseason exhibition against Colorado, where he tallied six points (3g, 3a) including the game-winner in overtime.
That being said, there is a lot of work left to do as the Stealth continues on their path towards the NLL title. For the returning players, getting used to the new system in place by their new Head Coach. For many of the rookies; the transition to the indoor game. It all starts at the HP Pavilion on January 9 against the Calgary Roughnecks.