The last time the Washington Stealth was in the Air Canada Centre, the team watched as the Toronto Rock celebrated the 2011 NLL Championship. It was the second straight season the two teams squared off for the title, the Stealth winning on their home floor in 2010. When the two teams meet tonight, the championship won’t be decided, but the game holds a great deal of importance for a 1-6 Stealth squad that is looking to get its season back on track.
The Stealth has been dealing with a number of injuries to key players throughout the first half of the season. Tonight, the team will be without All-Pro forward Rhys Duch, who will be missing his second consecutive game as he recovers from an upper body injury. It’s been a tough first half of the season for the Stealth offense, which will also be without Assistant Captain Cam Sedgwick tonight.
“It’s been a revolving door on offense,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. “We need to get some stability up front and get some guys used to working together.”
The Stealth offense is last in the NLL, averaging just 9.28 goals per game. They hope to receive a boost from the return of Jeff Zywicki, who has been on the injured reserve list after playing in the first two games of the season. He joins Brett Bucktooth and Athan Iannucci on the right side, the two midseason acquisitions beginning to gel together since Iannucci was added two weeks ago. Bucktooth has emerged as the Stealth’s number-three scorer, tallying 16 points (6g, 10a) in four games as a member of the team. The offense also has All-Pro forward Lewis Ratcliff, who leads the team with 15 goals and 31 points this season.
The Stealth defense is beginning to get healthier, as Assistant Captain Kyle Sorensen returns to the lineup after missing three games. Veteran defenseman Chris McElroy also returns to the lineup tonight. Coach Hall hopes the return of two key veterans will improve the team’s discipline on defense.
“We have been shooting ourselves in the foot with stupid penalties and undisciplined play,” said Hall. “Having two highly intelligent lacrosse players back in our lineup will big for us, especially in front of a new goaltender.”
The Stealth will have a new goaltender in the lineup for the second straight week as starting netminder Tyler Richards misses his second straight game due to injury. Free agent acquisition Kevin Croswell will be in the lineup after being signed earlier this week. He will join Matt King, who was signed last week, as the Stealth’s last line of defense.
Croswell and King will take on a well-rounded Toronto Rock (4-3) offense that is dealing with some injury issues as well. Captain Colin Doyle is unlikely to play after suffering an injury last weekend.
Despite the loss, the East Division-leading Rock have a number of weapons up front, led by All-Star Garrett Billings, who ranks fourth in the NLL with 42 points (12g, 30a) this season. Three other Rock players have 20 or more points: Josh Sanderson (11g, 24a for 35 pts), Stephan Leblanc (11-13-24) and Kasey Beirnes (12-11-23). Beirnes scored five goals last weekend versus Rochester.
Anchoring the Rock defense is All-Star goaltender Matt Roik. Roik was a member of the Stealth for three seasons before being traded to the Rock last offseason. Roik has posted an 11.43 goals against average and .743 save percentage in seven games this season.
The Stealth take on the Rock tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The game is scheduled to begin at 4pm PST and can be seen on the NLL Network at NLL.com. A high definition rebroadcast of the game can be seen on Root Sports NW at 9:30pm.