Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall addresses his team at training camp Dec. 8 and 9 in Langley, B.C. (Photo: Washington Stealth)
EVERETT, Wash. – With a third pre-season training camp now in the books, and just three weeks to go before the National Lacrosse League opener, Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall is impressed with the intensity and quality of play by both his veterans and prospects looking to crack the National Lacrosse League club’s lineup for the home opener against the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks Jan. 5 at Comcast Arena.
Following another three grueling weekend camp sessions on Saturday and Sunday, this time in Langley, B.C., Hall and his staff expect to be faced with tough decisions as they head into the final camp this weekend before the club’s roster is set on Dec. 20.
“We’ve been grinding it out for three-weeks now,” said Hall. “The camp really continues to be highly competitive. Guys are battling hard for jobs. The free agents and draftees continue to push the veterans every step along the way. It’s what we would expect to happen.”
Hall sees the competitiveness – and challenges to the establishment by younger players, as a necessary part of returning to the upper tier on the NLL. A place where the club thrived in its first two years in Washington state.
Among the bright spots in camp are the Stealth’s bookend selections in this year’s NLL Entry Draft, sixth-round pick (48th overall), forward Kyle Buchanan (Nepean, Ont.) and second-round pick (11th overall), defender Tyler Garrison (Coquitlam, B.C.) along with defender Justin Pychel (Welland, Ont.) the club’s third selection in the draft and veteran Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards (Vancouver, B.C.).
On the offensive side of the floor, a player that has Hall’s eye –largely for his ability to create offense is the 5-8, 160-pound right-handed Buchanan. “His vision, ability to see the floor, find open guys, and get open himself are impressive,” said Hall. “His decision making and level of maturity of his play continues to impress us.”
On the defensive end, Garrison at 6-2, 200 pounds is playing at a level of maturity that belies his age said Hall. “He’s fitting in very well.”
And Pychel at 6-1, 210 is also having a great camp said Hall. “He had an outstanding two days. He’s very aggressive and hard hitting. His lot is rising week-to-week.”
Joyce, at 6-6, 220-pounds and O’Meara at 6-5, 215 are easily the Stealth’s two tallest and possibly most powerful defenders. “Joyce needed a season or two of development in the summer leagues to be effective,” said Hall. “Both have great size and momentum.”
But if it’s not just the ability to find the net or physically dominate their opponents – all characteristics that emerged during the squad’s Champions Cup appearances in 2010 and 2011, it’s the goaltending and the poise that his net-minders are demonstrating that has Hall excited.
“To win a championship in this league you’ve got to have a top-line goaltender,” said Hall, who found that top-line keeper in Richards during the 2012 season and can see that confidence carrying over into camp this fall.
“The players have total confidence that T-Rich is going to make the kind of saves that you don’t expect,” said Hall.” When the goaltender makes huge saves it’s a kind of a motivator. He’s rock solid and rises to the occasion.”
Along with the play of his apparent starter Richards, Hall was pleased with the weekend play of challengers Nick Patterson (Victoria, B.C.), Kevin Croswell (Peterborough, Ont.) and Chris Seidel (Coquitlam, B.C.).
And it’s building confidence in the team, and coaches.
“Patterson has been an outstanding goalie in this league. Sitting out and not playing the summer has helped him refocus and reenergize. He’s pushing hard for that number two spot. Pushing all of them to raise their game,” said Hall. “That’s great for our shooters. When our goaltenders are as sharp as they are during camp it can only do good things to prepare us to start the season.”
Although Saturday’s training camp session at Comcast Arena’s Community Rink is not open to the public, Sunday’s is open to season ticket holders.
And Hall expects season ticket holders that attend Sunday’s session, which begins at 11 a.m., will deliver the energy and quality of play similar to what he expects on opening night.
“Anybody sitting in the stands can see it out there. It’s very entertaining.”
Final cuts to determine the active 23-man roster and three practice-roster spots take place on December 20.
The Stealth begin their fourth season of play in Washington state with its 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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