Two seasons, two trips to the National Lacrosse League title game. That’s the sort of roll the Washington Stealth find themselves on but make no mistake about it, there is no complacency. The reason for that is two-fold: One, athletes love to win and two, the athletes of the Stealth did not win it all last year. That came 2 seasons ago, when they won the NLL title in their first season in Everett, Wash., and they’d like nothing more than to experience that feeling again. Because the experience of last year, losing in the NLL title game, is not pleasant. So the Stealth have retooled and if anyone doubts they’ve got what it takes for a return trip to the final, well, they’re just not paying attention. Because the Stealth are loaded and ready to roll into the 2012 season.
2011: 8-8, lost in NLL title game.
Top 3 returning scorers: Lewis Ratcliff (41 goals, 51 assists for 92 points), Rhys Duch (42-48, 90), Cam Sedgwick (18-30, 48).
League leaders: Duch (5 game-winning goals)
Key additions: F Dean Hill, F Andrew Potter, D Kyle Ross.
Key departures: F Luke Wiles, F Craig Conn, D Tom Johnson, G Matt Roik.
Outlook: When you throw an offense on the floor that has the likes of Jeff Zywicki and Rhys Duch from the right and Lewis Ratcliff, Cam Sedgwick, Cliff Smith and newcomer Dean Hill from the left, what more is there to be desired?
How about some excitement being generated by rookie Brett Hickey? And how about knowing Paul Rabil will be doing more work in the offensive end? Sound good enough? It does to the Washington Stealth, who are pretty well set when it comes to working the ball up front as they seek a third straight trip to the NLL title game. It’s a veteran-laden lineup up front in Washington and considering the only really big loss to overcome is Luke Wiles, who was traded to Buffalo in the offseason, there’s plenty of reason to think the Stealth aren’t going anywhere soon from their perch as one of the NLL’s elite.
The word “beast” is being thrown around to describe Hickey, and Hill is showing the Stealth he knows very well how to use his big frame to gain position and his soft hands to finish. It’s a balance that will keep opposing defenses honest and there’s a depth there that will quickly tire opponents. The bigger question mark for the Stealth, which they believed they answered, is on the other end of the floor, where a lack of depth was exposed by injuries last season.
One of the bigger injuries was the loss of Kyle Sorensen to a knee injury, but he’s fully recovered and back in camp, ready to display the dominance he showed 2 seasons ago. The offseason addition of Kyle Ross, who arrived via trade with Toronto for goalie Matt Roik, bolsters the depth and he’ll have plenty of talented help in the form of returning veterans like Mike Grimes, Matt Beers, Curtis Hodgson and Chris O’Dougherty on the right side. On the other side, Jeff Moleski, Chris McElroy and Eric Martin lead a brigade of heavy hitters who aren’t afraid to drop the lumber or their gloves.
The biggest issue that bears watching is the situation in goal. Tyler Richards is all alone now after the trade of Roik. The duo had worked well together in forming one of the league’s most dominant 1-2 punches in the cage, but Richards now has the No. 1 title all to himself with Chris Seidel serving as the backup. So as long as Richards can stay healthy, there really isn’t much for the Stealth to worry about because Richards is more than capable of wearing that No. 1 title all by himself.
And as tight as the Stealth are sitting heading into the season, they’ve got some nice reserves in the tank. Transition man Nenad Gajic is starting the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list and if free agent forward Andrew Potter can work out some job-related issues, the Stealth could pull him from the hold-out list. There’s some young offensive talent on the practice squad in Martin Cummings, Justin Salt and Mike Mallory, so the Stealth are grooming sticks for the future knowing that if they’re needed this season, they’re fully capable of stepping in.
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