NLL opener: Stealth are eager to get back to top, Knighthawks are eager to stay there

Lewis Ratcliff (42) and the Stealth are approaching the 2013 season with something to prove. (Photo: Dan Brodie)
Lewis Ratcliff (42) and the Stealth are approaching the 2013 season with something to prove. (Photo: Dan Brodie)

One team comes into the 2013 National Lacrosse League as champion. The other team, well, does not. And that team, the Washington Stealth, sees a chance in Saturday’s NLL opener to turn it all around. “It would be a perfect opportunity to show that last year was not us,” veteran Stealth forward Lewis Ratcliff said of Saturday’s home opener against the Rochester Knighthawks. “We struggled the entire year last year. We started slow and lost confidence and it kind of snowballed from there.” So on Saturday night, the Washington Stealth are eager to not only show off their re-tooled roster, they’re eager to show that roster means business. The kind of business that got this team to NLL title games in 2010 and 2011.

Stealth coach Chris Hall said that between draft picks and free agents, the Stealth have about 10 new faces on the roster. So obviously, the pace at which these new sticks gel will be key to the Stealth turning around last year’s 4-12 record. He said the focus was on the back end and he’s liking the group back there so far.

Mainstays Kyle Sorensen, Matt Beers, Jeff Moleski, Mike Grimes, Chris O’Dougherty, Chris McElroy and Curtis Hodgson are back, but they’ve got some new and very sizable company.

“We needed to get a little bigger, needed to get a little smarter and more aggressive,” Hall said of his revamped defense.

To that end, Stealth fans will need to familiarize themselves with some new names. Patrick O’Meara (6-foot-5, 215), Justin Pychel (6-1, 210), Tim Henderson (6-3, 220), David Joyce (6-6, 220) and Tyler Garrison (6-2, 200) are the new boys in town, and at the very least, they bring the “bigger” that Hall wanted coming at opponents.

“Garrison, Pychel and Henderson, they are strong, aggressive and good-sized defenders that bring a ton of energy,” said Hall.

The Knighthawks’ forwards see this and understand. Coming into a season as the defending champion puts a target on your chest and they’re ready for all challengers. The core of last year’s offense is back in forwards Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless and Mike Accursi, but they’ve got some new sticks in Casey Powell and Dan Dawson. And so far, coach Mike Hasen likes what he sees.

“It’s great having those two here,” he said of Dawson and Powell, who last played together for the Boston Blazers in 2011 before that team suspended operations. “They give us a lot of other options and really open up the floor for us.”

Jamieson said there’s a hunger in the dressing room to defend the title, even among the newcomers, and said better starts are the focus. Too many times last season the Knighthawks dug themselves early holes and spent the rest of the game playing catch-up.

“It’s not a sense of urgency,” he said. “We just have to do a better job of preparing ourselves mentally for games. Training camp has been completely different this year. We’ve got some new faces and got rid of some. But we still have a lot of hunger in the room to go out and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.”

Hasen won’t let that happen. Not with the message he’s been hammering home during sessions.

“Last year was last year,” he said. “Every team is really close.”

That’s a lesson Ratcliff and the Stealth learned last year and they learned it the hard way. It’s a humbling experience going from back-to-back championship games (winning it all in 2010), to not even qualifying for the playoffs last year.

“We’re taking a lot less for granted this year,” Ratcliff said of the mood in camp this winter. “We came in last year expecting to be where we were the couple of years before and it opened a lot of eyes.”

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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