After starting off the first two months of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) season with a 1-6 record, the Washington Stealth is within striking distance of a birth in the NLL playoffs with three wins in the month of March. Included in these wins was the defending NLL Champion Toronto Rock as well as the Colorado Mammoth who is one of the top-ranked teams in the NLL.
Throughout the early part of the season, the Stealth had to deal with the injury bug, losing major contributors to the team. The Stealth was also playing without Head Coach Chris Hall, who was recovering from cancer treatment.
“CH (Chris Hall) is the heart beat of our team and he holds all the players accountable,” said Stealth captain Jason Bloom. “He makes more of an impact than any one player on the team.”
Coach Hall was absent for the first six games of the season when the team went 1-5. Unfortunately, when Hall was finally healthy enough rejoin the team, he came back to a lineup that was missing Tyler Richards, Rhys Duch, Jeff Zywicki, Kyle Sorensen, and Chris McElroy.
“Anytime you’re missing that many critical players it’s obviously difficult,” said Hall. “But when you’re facing adversity you look to the depth of your team.”
Over the past two seasons the Stealth has led the league with a 12.93 goals per game average, guiding the team to two West Divisions titles and the franchise’s first Champions Cup. This season however, through 13 games the team is ranked eighth place out of nine teams scoring 10.85 goals per game.
The Stealth, which currently sits outside the playoff picture with a 4-9 record, have recently given their fans a lot to be excited about late in the season. In their last six games, the team has a 3-3 record and has seen an increase in production from its offense. During this late season run, the team has scored 12.17 goals per game, which would be good enough for a third place tie in total offense.
In those six games Richards, Sorensen, Duch and McElroy have all returned to the lineup after recovering from injury.
“Our game against Minnesota next week will probably be the healthiest we’ve been all year now that we have almost all the guys back and with the week of rest,” added Hall.
The team has also seen an increase in production from Athan Ianucci, who was acquired by the Stealth back in February in exchange for transition player Paul Rabil. In this current six game stretch, Ianucci has produced 11 goals and 11 assists.
“In the past six games we’ve gotten healthy,” said Hall. “Our offense has gotten better with the return of Duch and Zywicki from injury and Ianucci has become very comfortable in the last few games and has developed better chemistry with his teammates.”
Defensively the team has been strong all season ranking third in the NLL allowing 12.08 goals against on average in the first thirteen games of the season. In the past six games, the team has held their opponents to a stingy 11.0 goals per game, which would put them second in the NLL behind only the Calgary Roughnecks who have allowed just 10.46 goals against on average in the 2012 season.
With only three games remaining in the regular season, the Stealth finds itself in a tight playoff race, which will likely go all the way down to the last game of the season. The team travels to Minnesota next week to face a Swarm team that currently sits at 5-7. The team will then return to play the final two games at home against the defending NLL Champion Toronto Rock and the Buffalo Bandits, who sit only a half game ahead of the Stealth for the eighth and final playoff spot at 4-8.
“If we win out then we will be in the playoffs one way or another, but we’re not looking to far past Minnesota next weekend,” said Hall.
But with a healthy lineup full of the core players who have taken this team to back to back NLL Champions Cup games there is a lot of optimism that they can do it again.
“As poorly as we’ve played we have confidence that with CH back behind the bench and with a healthy lineup we can be as good as we’ve been in the last two years, all the pieces just haven’t peaked yet,” said Bloom.
The Washington Stealth will host Lewis Ratcliff Bobblehead Night when they return to the Comcast Arena on April 20th against the Toronto Rock and will celebrate fan appreciation night on April 28th against the Buffalo bandits for a potential playoff show down in Everett.
Tickets for these games start at just $7 and are available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.