March 7, 2012

Stealth Looking for Strong Second Half to Season

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Courtesy Washington Stealth 

Chris Hall sat in a dressing room corner munching on a slice of pizza and digesting with great satisfaction his first win since stepping back behind Washington's bench following throat cancer treatments.

The 14-9 victory in Toronto last Saturday night brought the Stealth to the midpoint of their 16-game National Lacrosse League schedule with a 2-6 record. Most importantly, it proved that all is not lost.

''There is absolutely something to build on,'' said Hall. ''We're still in a hole but there are some good signs.''

Some of the good signs:

  1. The return of Jeff Zywicki, who has always been an impact player for the Stealth. He'd missed five games since being injured Jan. 19 but returned against the Rock to score two amazing goals at critical junctures in the game. His presence reinvigorates the attack.
  2. The return of Kyle Sorensen, whose grit and leadership on the back end are important elements in the team's success the last two years. He'd missed three games and the Stealth lost them all.
  3. The signing of Kevin Croswell as announced last week. Croswell started in goal with only the morning shootaround with his new teammates and showed he can supply the stop-gap netminding needed until the injured Tyler Richards is again available.
  4. Hall's presence. He's got two titles -- 2004 and 2010 -- under his belt for a reason.

Captain Jason Bloom mentioned Hall's return in his post-game analysis.

''We've been playing hurt and haven't deserved to win but we deserved to win this one,'' said Bloom. ''We played smart out there. It's great having Jeff Zywicki back and it's huge having coach Hall back. It means a lot.''

Prolific scorer Rhys Duch has missed the last two games but Hall says Duch might be ready to return for a crucial two-game showdown with the Mammoth.

''He was close last weekend but not quite,'' said Hall. ''I think we'll have him back this weekend and we sure could use him with back to back games with Colorado.''

Bloom and his teammates talked before playing the Rock about the 8-7 Champion's Cup loss in Toronto last May that kept them from winning a second straight NLL title. The goaltending of the now-retired Bob Watson kept them from it. That memory brought out their best effort of the season last Saturday.

''We had some unfinished business,'' Bloom said. ''We felt we were the better team last year.''

As for this year, with only one of the nine teams in the league to miss the playoffs, Washington, Edmonton and Buffalo are in the most precarious positions with a league-low two wins each.

Remaining Stealth games:

  • Saturday in Colorado and Sunday at home against the Mammoth
  • March 24 at Edmonton
  • March 25 at home against Minnesota
  • March 31 at Calgary
  • April 14 at Minnesota
  • Home games April 20 against Toronto and April 28 against Buffalo

Winning at least four of the eight might be necessary to earn a playoff berth. Of course, the Stealth will want to do better than that, and they think they can after the win in Toronto and the imminent return of Duch and Richards.

Lewis Ratcliff is playing well, Athan Iannucci and Brett Bucktooth have fit in nicely on the attack and Dean Hill will find himself in the lineup every game if he continues to produce as he did in Toronto.

''We're finally on the right track,'' said defenseman Jeff Moleski.

Regardless of their current win-loss record, and remember that injuries are a big reason for that, it's inconceivable given the load of talent on the roster and with Hall now back behind the bench that the Stealth would miss the playoffs. Look for them to come on strong in the schedule's second half and once again be a contender come playoff time.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.


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