The Washington Stealth enter training camp this weekend looking to rebound behind their head coach in 2013. (Photo: Richard Olson)
After a summer of retooling and recharging following an injury-plagued 2012 season, Washington Stealth coaches are set to open training camp this weekend with the same commitment that drove the National Lacrosse League franchise to two NLL Championship Game appearances in the last three years.
For Stealth head coach Chris Hall, one of today’s most accomplished leaders in professional box lacrosse, it’s the taste of winning it all in 2010 that keeps him focused as he begins to evaluate both the club’s veterans and the young talent at camp.
The Stealth’s training camp gets underway with veterans and prospects reporting on Saturday, Dec. 1 at Soccer First Indoor Sports in Arlington, WA with sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Camp continues on Sunday, Dec. 2 at Comcast Arena in Everett, WA with a 9:30 a.m. session. The public is invited to attend free of charge on both days.
The evaluation process is where the two-time NLL champion Hall, one of just three coaches in the league to hoist the coveted Champion’s Cup for two different teams, expects to position the franchise for the 2013 postseason and perhaps another title run.
“In a nine-team league, it’s so competitive,” said Hall, whose team uncharacteristically stumbled in 2012 after injuries and his own health issues contributed to a disappointing last-place finish in the West Division. "We’re living proof that there’s not much difference from first and worst. It’s much like the NFL, a couple of things can go wrong, you get hit with a lightning bolt and take two steps backwards. Once you get to the playoffs, in a one game elimination, anyone can win.”
It’s the latter that has Hall’s attention. Not just in rejuvenating a team with winning potential, but putting new pieces of the puzzle into place to earn a postseason berth.
For the again-healthy Stealth and their coach, who now has a clean bill-of-health after missing five games last year to undergo cancer treatment, those pieces are on the defensive end of the floor, and they could come from the spoils of the 2012 NLL Entry Draft.
“This draft class is an outstanding group and we had been counting the days to see them on the floor together,” Hall said of six of the Stealth’s seven draftees – mostly defenders – whom were among the 43 prospects at the team’s free agent camp in mid-November.
“Doug [Locker] did an incredible amount of homework in the offseason to scour every nook and cranny to find players that could help us,” Hall said. “It’s rare to come out of a draft with all the guys we wanted going in. Every one of them has a good chance of making the final roster.”
With six Stealth draft picks in camp, Hall expects the rookies to give the veterans some healthy competition this weekend.
“It’s a time to light a fire under our veterans and find players that we think we can get us back to the level of play that we’re capable of,” Hall said. “We think we’ve found some players that are going to push the veterans when main camp starts.”
One of those rookies is aggressive right-handed defenseman Tyler Garrison (6'2", 200 lbs.) from Coquitlam, British Columbia. Hall expects the bruising 20-year-old to help improve the club’s 2012 goals against average (12.57), which ranked in the bottom-third of the league. Washington hopes to get back to the defense from deep playoff run years when Stealth goaltenders posted lower GAAs in 2011 (11.84) and 2010 (10.99).
“[Garrison showed] everything we expected him to be and more,” Hall said. “He really showed a sense of confidence and maturity and good decision-making. He was in hot pursuit of loose balls all weekend and one of those guys that was very aggressive.”
Another name new to the Stealth organization, but with extensive NLL experience, is goaltender Nick Patterson (Victoria, British Columbia).
Patterson, who spent seven years with the Minnesota Swarm before sitting out the 2012 season, brings some much needed depth between the pipes for the Stealth organization that already has the stability of Vancouver native Tyler Richards in the position.
“In this league, you need three goaltenders,” Hall said. “Patterson is a Northwest kid from Victoria and highly capable of stopping the ball. He has a renewed sense in his game and he’s got a lot of years left in him.”
As training camp gets into full swing this weekend, Hall and his staff will continue to evaluate the performance of both new and familiar faces, move a few pieces around on the board, all to see who fits best where when the Stealth open the NLL regular season at home against the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday, Jan. 5 at Comcast Arena.
In the end, Washington's head coach looks to get the Stealth back to their winning ways in 2013.
“Let’s start working on it right now and get back to where we belong," Hall said.
Training camp continues from Dec. 8-9 in Langley, British Columbia (Langley Events Centre) and from Dec. 15-16 in Everett (Comcast Arena). The final training camp weekend takes place from Dec. 29-30 also at Comcast Arena.