Before the start of the 2010 National Lacrosse League
season, the Washington Stealth and Toronto Rock executed one of the biggest
blockbuster trades in the history of the sport. The Stealth sent Colin Doyle, the team captain and 2009
scoring champ, back home to Toronto in exchange for three players. The experts raised their eyebrows at
the trade, wondering if the Stealth’s decision to trade one of the game’s
all-time greats would pay off.
Following the trade, the Stealth was selected to finish eighth in the preseason polls. What the experts failed to realize was that the Stealth were getting some great pieces from Toronto in return. They failed to realize that Lewis Ratcliff was capable of the type of season he put together for the Stealth in 2010.
Ratcliff’s talent for scoring goals has never been in question. In nine NLL seasons, he’s found the back of the net 303 times in 127 career games. But with the reputation as one of the league’s top snipers, Ratcliff’s playmaking ability is underrated. He also has 351 assists in his career and his 654 points ranks 16th on the NLL’s All-Time scoring list, and he just turned 29 three days ago.
“Lewis has been a top five scorer throughout his career,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall, who won an NLL Championship with Ratcliff as part of the Calgary Roughnecks in 2004. “When the Doyle trade came up, he was obviously on my mind. We understand each other and get along well.”
Ratcliff was a major piece to that 2004 Championship team in Calgary. In only his second season, he recorded 71 points on 34 goals and 37 assists. Individually, his game continued to improve with the Roughnecks, peaking with 104 points (50g, 54a) in 2007.
Despite his success in Calgary, Ratcliff was traded to Toronto in 2008. He spent the last two seasons playing for a Toronto Rock team that struggled throughout his tenure there. The Rock went 13-19 and missed the playoffs both seasons. Last season, Ratcliff had his second-lowest scoring output; his 68 points besting only his rookie season when he finished with 45 points.
“I never really felt like a Toronto Rock,” said Ratcliff. “Last year was a really tough year, and it weighed on my confidence.”
When the chance came for Ratcliff to take his game out West to the newly relocated Washington Stealth, it felt right from the start.
“I definitely feel 100% more comfortable now than any point in my career,” he said. “As soon as I got here I knew this was the place for me.”
It didn’t hurt that the Stealth’s new home in Everett, Wash., is just 110 miles from Ratcliff’s home in Victoria, British Columbia. Instead of traveling across North America on a weekly basis, he’s now able to stay close to his wife of four years, Kim, and their two-year old son Carter. The Ratcliffs also have another child on the way. He owns a gym back home called Crossfit Vancouver Island and less travel also put less stress on his work schedule.
But what the lacrosse world is noticing in 2010, is that the move has added to his comfort level on the floor. He put up his usual goal-scoring numbers, leading the league with 46 goals - the second highest output of his career - but also proved to be a prominent playmaker on the league’s highest-scoring offense, tallying 51 assists, just three short of his career-high. His 97 points rank second in the NLL this season.
“There’s no question that his ability to score goals makes Lewis incredibly valuable,” said Hall. “But he has balanced that with his ability as a playmaker. He’s a big reason we have scored the most goals in the league. Being second in the league in scoring on a team with a lot of great scorers says a lot. He engages the rest of our offense.”
Ratcliff also has proven he can pick up the slack for his teammates and take over games when he’s needed. He has three game-winning goals this season, two coming in the fourth quarter. He recorded five or more points in eleven games this season, and with one of the Stealth’s biggest offensive weapons, Jeff Zywicki, sidelined for three games with an injury, Ratcliff tallied 13 goals and 12 assists. NLL Insider recently crowned Ratcliff as the most clutch player in the league in their “Money Ballers” feature.
“He’s a guy you love to play with, but you hate to play against,” said Stealth Captain Jason Bloom, who saw plenty of Ratcliff last season when they both were playing in the NLL East Division. “When you need a goal, he’s the guy you look to and he always steps up. He’s been an absolute monster for us all season.”
The Stealth’s NLL Most Valuable Player candidate is not just proving his worth on the score sheet, either. As one of the more seasoned veterans on the Stealth squad, he’s shown his leadership qualities as well.
“He leads by example and his personal regimen is unmatched,” said Hall. “He is disciplined about his physical and mental preparation. The rest of the guys see that and it transfers onto the floor. He’s always strived to be the best individual player, but now he understands and continues to improve as a team player.”
As the Stealth enter the 2010 playoffs as the top overall seed in the league, Ratcliff is playing what he says is “the best lacrosse of my career”. In the Stealth’s last five games, he has scored 20 goals and added 20 assists.
He has certainly found his comfort zone with the Washington Stealth on and off the floor. And after enjoying one of the best statistical performances of his career, 2010 has proved that a comfortable Lewis Ratcliff is dangerous for the rest of the NLL.