ILIndoor Roundtable: How important was it for the Stealth to win their NLL opener?

Cliff Smith, left, had a hat trick before halftime in Washington's win over Rochester. His production helps take pressure off of other shooters, which was key. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)
Cliff Smith, left, had a hat trick before halftime in Washington's win over Rochester. His production helps take pressure off of other shooters, which was key. (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)

We’ve got some new names in on the ILIndoor roundtable discussion. Not to worry, fans of Teddy Jenner and Ty Pilson. They’ll be back for regular takes on our roundtable from week to week, but we also wanted to get some fresh voices and thoughts in there as well. So instead of having you sort through 6 different names each week, we’re on a rotating basis as we bring on board Casey Vock of Inside Lacrosse and ILGear, and ILIndoor columnist Marty O’Neill. They’re joining ILIndoor editors Bob Chavez and Stephen Stamp for this week’s discussion, which really wasn’t all that difficult to come up with since just 1 National Lacrosse League game was played on opening weekend. But now that it’s done, we kicked it off with the question of just how important was Washington’s win over Rochester in helping the Stealth prove that their 2012 nightmare is over?

STAMP: I think it was critical for the Stealth. Nobody thought it was a big deal last year when they lost a couple of games. There was plenty of time for a team as good as they’d shown they were to come back and get on a roll. But next thing you knew they were 1-6 and the season was virtually lost already. My first inclination was to say that winning wasn’t as important as playing well and proving to themselves and everyone else that they are back and that last year was an anomaly. Then I looked again at last year’s schedule and realized that in those six losses in seven games, three of their losses were by one goal. So maybe getting the W was just as important as how they played. Either way, it was a huge win for a team that really needed to get its swagger back. Tough to top beating the defending champs for that. Throw in a resounding return from Cliff Smith suggesting that he may be ready to provide solid secondary scoring, as well as all four rookies in the lineup looking like they’re ready for the pro game, and it’s hard to imagine opening night going a whole lot better for Washington.

O’NEILL: Stephen touched on a couple of important items. This was a character win for the Stealth. They proved something to themselves and that’s what mattered the most. Come from behind 4th quarter dominance is about as clutch as it gets. Big contribution from the left side and a balanced attack with the help of game star Cliff Smith means no one on the Stealth offense can be overlooked. No exhibition for the Stealth so their defense playing together for the first time put out an acceptable effort but still needs to iron out some details.

VOCK: A huge win with contributions from many of the important pieces. Obviously, it could have gone either way, but it didn’t and that’s the take away for the Stealth — they willed themselves to win, with a great individual effort from Athan Iannucci at the end (also: see his “peanut butter sandwich” comment from the post-game interview — classic). I love the spread of points on offense: Rhys Duch with 6 points and looking like a force, and then two tallies each from the Langley Thunder connection in Lewis Ratcliff and AI. Though Brett Bucktooth had a quiet premier, you saw an explosion from Cliff Smith and it starts to look like this team has a lot more weapons than some might first think. That felt like the difference here in a close, thrilling contest. But what I really liked has already pointed out: the team had to rally, scoring four of the last five in front of what must have been one of the best crowds ever on hand in Everett. The Knighthawks threw a range of different guys to the dot to face Bob Snider, with some success, and that didn’t matter either. The Stealth still managed to outshoot Rochester by a lot (64-47), and this hard-fought victory could be what helps them find their identity early in the season and find success.

CHAVEZ: I agree with you guys in the character department. The Stealth know they can win; they’ve done it before. I think they just needed to prove it to themselves again and the restored confidence could go a long way this season. But let’s flip the coin and talk about Rochester. What did we see with the Knighthawks offense and Dan Dawson? Potential?

STAMP: With Casey Powell out of the lineup, we didn’t get a chance to see how the Rochester O is going to work. But even had he been playing, it would have been the early stages of that offence coming together. There are some good signs for Rochester coming from the game. Cody Jamieson scored five points including one goal but he really wasn’t critical to their success on Saturday. You know he’ll be better in most of the games he plays. Dawson looked fine; a little tentative at times, but that’s not surprising from a guy who has evolved into a definite pass-first guy. I liked that he tried to get to the net a few times. It looked like Washington was really trying to take that away. On the far side of the floor, Cory Vitarelli and Johnny Powless took a total of six shots and scored five goals. They were getting great looks and taking advantage of them. The opportunities for Vitarelli, Powless, Joe Walters et. al. are going to come because teams will be focused on Dawson, Jammer and CP. I think that offence will be a force to be reckoned with.

O’NEILL: The game was really up and down, packed with action due to very few penalties. I think a few more calls would have favoured Rochester and gotten Dawson more reps. Like Toronto, where if you shut down Colin Doyle, Kasey Biernes may get 3 and 2 or it will be Garrett Billings’ big night or Stephan LeBlanc’s or Josh Sanderson’s. I think we’ll see this often where teams say lets make Vitarelli or Mike Accursi beat us and try to dictate shots from those guys and less from Jamieson or Powell and Dawson when possible. Secondary scoring is the new theme in the NLL for 2013.

VOCK: I see a lot of good takeaways for the Knighthawks. It’s still tough to know what their night would have looked like with Casey Powell on the floor. But I do think his addition helps them more than it hurts them there. Tough to decide who to really worry about the most. Like Stamper, I thought we saw DDD looking to find himself in the first few series, but then he most definitely was going to the cage more than I’ve seen him do. Though Jammer scored only once, his two behind-the-back feeds were beautiful, and his single goal was impressive. JP looks like he packed on some muscle, and he’s obviously got a lot of confidence going. This game goes the other way, the conversation is probably more about “how good could they be when CP hits the floor.” Truth is, they gave up too many shots, Matt Vinc did all he could, and the Khawks got edged out by a very dangerous Washington squad. The Khawks might have more to fix on defense based on what we saw, though to be fair, Paul Dawson didn’t exactly have a lot of time to find himself before hitting the floor, just one scrimmage, and it did look like a lot was asked of him in his Khawks premiere. If those pieces on offense come together, yeah, it’s one scary front. Marty’s no doubt correct that teams are going to try to force the lesser-known characters to do the damage, and I think players like Vitarelli, Stephen Keogh, and, as we saw Saturday, Walters, can hurt you too. This will be very interesting moving forward.

CHAVEZ: We’ve talked a lot about 1 game, but the scheduling isn’t our fault. Now we have a full slate this weekend and I want to know what issue’s hot on your brain. To me, it’s how Toronto’s going to fare with a tough, tough opening weekend. At Calgary on Saturday and at Edmonton on Sunday. The Rock are playing 2 great defenses and one of them is pissed off about a first-round playoff exit and the other lost in the championship game. If that’s not a grueling opening, I don’t know what is.

VOCK: For me, this is easy: What will the Philadelphia Wings look like in the wake of Dan Dawson’s departure and the addition of Paul Rabil and Jordan Hall? More importantly, will that remodeled team produce wins? I feel like Philadelphia could go either way: they could surprise some folks and show a great deal of synergy thanks to the fact a lot of these guys know each other, have played together and are generally very good athletes. Or, they could struggle to find an identity given that some of the players, especially some newcomers, are a bit less experienced than some of the other rookies around the league, so how much those new guys can be leaned to support the more notable players on seems limited. With a great number of people heading to Philly this weekend for the US Lacrosse Convention, there will be a lot of eyes on this team, which faces another club looking to sort of redefine itself in a year with some significant changes in the Bandits. That might be just as interesting, what Kilgour and Company do with this intriguing roster, headlined by lacrosse’s Energizer Bunny: JT.

STAMP: I’m with Casey’s second topic. Very curious to see how the Bandits come out of the gates. I’ve heard good things coming out of their training camp and some people in the league who think they’ll be the best team in the East. They seemed so dysfunctional last year that it’s easy to forget they have been very good for a long time. It is fascinating to watch them practice and see little things like Shawn Williams taking Carter Bender aside to talk during drills. I think Bender’s tempted to wear a mic so he can record it all and not miss anything Willie has to say. What a learning opportunity for young players like him and Dhane Smith. Dhane may not be the most polished high pick in this year’s draft, but how quickly will he be able to learn and grow playing with the likes of John Tavares, Williams, Scott Self, Mat Giles, Tracey Kelusky, Derek Suddons. If they’ve got the mix of youth and experience right, they could be a very dangerous team this year.

O’NEILL: The game between Philadelphia and the Bandits will be missing Billy Dee Smith and Jordan Hall. Tough one for the Wings as I see Buffalo’s special teams winning this one unless Philly just out hustles them. Minnesota is without captain Andrew Suitor and that is a huge loss. It is possible they won’t activate Brock Sorenson either but I gotta think their legs will be able to frustrate Buffalo’s game plan especially starting the schedule back to back. I like Toronto to split on the weekend and I think Washington’s training camp game was last week so they may be a bit more sharp or game ready than the Mammoth this week.

CHAVEZ: I’m just excited to finally have a full weekend of NLL ahead of us. Trying to watch 2 or 3 games at a time on YouTube is challenging but as a fan of the game, it’s a good problem to have. Game on, boys.

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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