Stealth head coach Chris Hall (second from left) and his staff evaluate prospects at the team's try-out camp in mid November. (Photo: Richard Olson)
EVERETT, Wash. – After a summer of retooling and recharging following an injury-plagued 2012 season, Washington Stealth coaches are set for the club’s second training camp of the pre-season this weekend with the commitment that drove the National Lacrosse League franchise to two Champions Cup title appearances in its first three years in Everett.
And for head coach Chris Hall, one of today’s most accomplished leaders in professional box lacrosse, it’s the taste of winning it all in 2010 that has him keenly focused as he begins to evaluate the club’s veterans as well young talent seeking to break into NLL play.
The Stealth’s second training camp gets underway with veterans and prospects reporting on Saturday, Dec. 1 at Soccer First Indoor Sports in Arlington, Wash. with sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Camp continues on Sunday, Dec. 2 at Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash. with a 11:30 a.m. session. The public is invited to attend free of charge on both days.
The evaluation process, one where the two-time NLL titlist Hall, one of just three coaches in the league to hoist the coveted Champion’s Cup for two different teams, expects to position the local franchise for the 2013 post-season and perhaps another title run.
“In a nine-team league it’s so competitive,” said Hall who’s Stealth uncharacteristically stumbled in 2012 after injuries and his own health issues contributed to an aggravating fifth-place finish in the west.
“We’re living proof that there’s not much difference from first and worst,” said Hall. “It’s much like the NFL. A couple of things can go wrong. You get hit with a lightning bolt and take two steps backwards,” he said. “Or - once you get to the playoffs, in a one game elimination, anyone can win.”
It’s the latter that has Hall’s attention.
Not just in rejuvenating a team with winning potential, but putting new pieces of the puzzle into place to forge that coveted post-season berth.
For the Stealth who are once again healthy, and for Hall who has a personal clean bill-of-health after missing five games to undergo cancer treatment in 2012, those pieces are on the defensive end of the floor, and they could come from the spoils of this year’s NLL entry draft.
“This draft class is an outstanding group and we had been counting the days to see them on the floor together,” said Hall of six of the Stealth’s seven NLL draftees – mostly defenders that were among 43 prospects at the team’s try-out camp in mid November.
“Doug (Locker, Stealth general manger) did an incredible amount of homework in the off season to scour every nook and cranny to find players that could help us,” said Hall. “It’s rare to come out of a draft with all the guys we wanted going in. Every one of them has a good chance of making the final roster.”
With six of the Stealth’s NLL draft selections strutting their stuff, Hall expects to see some healthy competition as veterans report to the club’s second pre-season camp this weekend.
“It’s a time to light a fire under our veterans and find players that we think we can get us back to the level of play that we’re capable of,” said Hall. “We think we’ve found some players that are going to push the veterans when main camp starts.”
One of those is aggressive right-handed defender Tyler Garrison (Coquitlam, B.C.) who captained his Coquitlam Junior A club to a post-season run in 2012. With 12 goals and eight assists for 20 regular season points in 2012, Hall expects the bruising 20-year-old to make a difference in improving the club’s goals against average which ranked in the bottom-third of the league at 12.57 compared with their title-game years where Stealth goaltenders tallied a miserly 11.84 GAA in 2011 and 10.99 GAA in 2010.
“(Garrison showed) everything we expected him to be and more,” said Hall of the 6-2, 200-pound defender. “He really showed a sense of confidence and maturity and good decision making. He was in hot pursuit of loose balls all weekend and one of those guys that was very aggressive.”
Another name new to the Stealth organization, but with extensive NLL experience, is goaltender Nick Patterson (Victoria, B.C.).
Patterson, who spent seven seasons with the Minnesota Swarm before sitting out 2012, brings some much needed depth between the pipes for the Stealth organization that already has the stability of Tyler Richards (Vancouver, B.C.) in the position.
“In this league you need three goaltenders,” said Hall, “Patterson is a Northwest kid from Victoria and highly capable of stopping the ball. He has a renewed sense in his game and he’s got a lot of years left in him.”
As training camp gets into full swing this weekend, Hall and his staff will continue to evaluate the performance of both his new faces and familiar ones, move a few pieces around on the board, all looking to see what and who best fits into place when the Stealth open the NLL regular season against defending league champions Rochester Knighthawks on Jan. 5 at Comcast Arena.
And the vibe around Hall and the Stealth organization this season?
“It’s let’s start working on it right now and get back to where we belong.”
Training camp continues Dec. 1 in Arlington, Wash. (Soccer First Indoor Sports) and Dec. 2 in Everett, Wash. (Comcast Arena) and Dec. 8 and 9 in Langley, B.C. (Langley Events Centre), and Dec. 15 and 16 in Everett, Wash. (Comcast Arena). The final training camp weekend takes place on December 29 and 30 also in Everett, Wash. (Comcast Arena).
The Stealth begin their fourth season of play in Washington state with the 2013 home-opener against the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks, Saturday, Jan. 5 at Everett’s Comcast Arena. Ticket packages for all eight Stealth home games start at just $99 and are on sale now. To learn more call 877-MY-75-TIX or visit www.StealthLAX.com Washington Stealth… It’s Like Hockey with Balls.
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