Coming off a year in which they were the only team to miss the playoffs, the main goal for the Stealth last year was to ensure they got back to being in the mix for the Champions Cup come playoff time. They managed to stay competitive throughout the year and won a couple of postseason games to earn the right to play host to the title match. Mission accomplished. The next step would be to try to win the championship, but first, they had to figure out where they could play it. Word eventually came out that the Stealth would not be able to play the Champions Cup final in Everett because of prior bookings at the arena. Enter the Langley Events Centre. The final didn’t go the way they’d hoped, with the Stealth dropping a thrilling one-goal decision to Rochester. Long-term, though, the game must be considered a success. It went well enough to convince the team’s ownership that Langley would work as the new home for the team, and the Vancouver Stealth were born. For more about what went right and what went wrong for the team that was Washington, make the jump.
The Stealth didn’t have any major winning or losing streaks through the season. They opened with a pair of wins and took three straight in February and March. Twice they lost two games in a row. There was never a point where they laid down the gauntlet and made it look like they were clear Champions Cup favourites. There was also never a point where it looked like they’d drop from the playoffs again. They just cruised along in the upper middle of the pack, tinkering with their systems and getting their newer players integrated into the team. Once they got to the postseason, the Stealth did just enough to pull out one-goal wins over the Alberta teams, downing Edmonton 12-11 in the first round then edging Calgary 14-13 in the conference finals. Either of those goal totals would have done the trick in the final, but Rochester’s tough D and goalie Matt Vinc held them down enough to secure an 11-10 win for the Knighthawks’ second straight Cup.
Rhys Duch led the way with the best season yet in his illustrious five-year career. Duch scored 45 times and added 51 assists for a career-high 96 points. He also continued to produce the kind of play in pressure situations that makes his rhyming nickname of “Clutch Duch” so apropros. He could use some more support, though, as the Stealth’s total of 193 was smack dab in the middle of the pack, fifth in the nine-team league. Both Lewis Ratcliff (31/36/67) and Athan Iannucci (22/25/47) were down from their usually prolific scoring pace. Cliff Smith came out like gangbusters with 7 goals and 15 points in his first two games, but cooled appreciably thereafter, finishing with 15 goals and 45 points.
Defence and Goaltending
They did ever so slightly better on the defensive side of the ball, allowing 192 goals for fourth best in the league. Tyler Richards was excellent, as usual, but he faced a lot of shots. Richards’ .795 save percentage was second-best in the league but his goals against average of 10.94 was fifth. He didn’t help himself any by taking a couple of major penalties in key situations, but he was still often the Stealth’s best player. The defence was very good at times; it just wasn’t consistent enough to suit coach Chris Hall. The Stealth held opponents to fewer than 10 goals only three times. In Kyle Sorensen, Mike Grimes and Jeff Moleski, Vancouver has the nucleus of a very good group. They also got strong rookie performances from Tyler Garrison and Tim Henderson. They’re a physical and gifted group of players who are still working towards becoming the smoothly functioning unit they have the potential to be.
The power play wasn’t all that great in 2013. The Stealth had both the seventh-most power play chances and the seventh-best percentage of scoring with the man advantage. That adds up to not a lot of goals in situations that can often swing the balance of a game. In an eerie coincidence befitting this Halloween edition of What Went Right, What Went Wrong, the Stealth had the mirror image of their power play stats on the penalty kill. They face the third-fewest man advantages against and had the third-best penalty kill percentage. Spooky.
The biggest personnel addition, of course, was having Hall back for a full season after a year in which he missed a good chunk of the season while battling throat cancer. Nothing against Art Webster and the others who stepped up in his absence, but having Hall around from training camp all the way through clearly makes a big difference for the Stealth. He’s an outstanding coach and a calming presence on the bench. The Stealth also got good value for their draft picks, seeing solid rookie seasons from Garrison and Henderson as well as Kyle Buchanan and Mitch McMichael.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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