Washington Stealth head coach Chris Hall has been impressed by the team's highly-competitive training camp thus far. (Photo: Richard Olson)
With a third preseason training camp in the books, the Washington Stealth are now just three weeks away from the start of the 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season. Stealth head coach Chris Hall has been especially impressed by the camp's competitiveness as players try and crack Washington's roster for their home opener on Saturday, Jan. 5 against the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks.at Comcast Arena.
Following three grueling camp sessions in Langley, B.C. this past weekend, Hall and his staff will be faced with some tough decisions as they head into their final camp this weekend before the club’s roster is trimmed down on Thursday, Dec. 20.
“We’ve been grinding it out for three weeks now,” Hall said. “The camp really continues to be highly competitive. Guys are battling hard for jobs. The free agents and draftees continue to push the veterans every step along the way. It’s what we would expect to happen.”
Hall sees the competitiveness – and challenges to the establishment by younger players – as a necessary part of returning to the upper tier of the NLL.
Among the bright spots in camp are three Stealth rookies from the 2012 NLL Entry Draft, sixth-round pick (48th overall) forward Kyle Buchanan (Nepean, Ont.), second-round pick (11th overall) defenseman Tyler Garrison (Coquitlam, B.C.) and defenseman Justin Pychel (Welland, Ont.).
On the offensive side of the floor, a player that has caught Hall's eye (mainly for his ability to create offense) is the 5-8, 160-pound right-handed Buchanan.
“His vision, ability to see the floor, find open guys, and get open himself are impressive,” Hall said. “His decision-making continues to impress us.”
On the defensive end, Garrison (6'2", 200 lbs.) is playing with a high level of maturity while Pychel (6'1", 210 lbs.) is also having a great camp.
“[Garrison] is fitting in very well," Hall said. "[Pychel] has had an outstanding two days. He’s very aggressive and hard hitting. His lot is rising week-to-week.”
Others showing promise out of the free-agent ranks are Coquitlam, B.C. natives David Joyce and Patrick O’Meara. Joyce (6'6", 220 lbs) and O’Meara (6'5", 215 lbs) are easily the Stealth’s tallest and possibly most powerful defenders.
“Joyce needed a season or two of development in the summer leagues to be effective,” Hall said. “Both have great size and momentum.”
The Stealth's ability to find the net and physically dominate their opponent was prevalent during their consecutive Champion's Cup appearances from 2010-11, but the team is focusing a little more on their goaltending corps led by Tyler Richards.
“To win a championship in this league, you’ve got to have a top-line goaltender," Hall said. "The players have total confidence that 'T-Rich' is going to make the kind of saves that you don’t expect. When the goaltender makes huge saves, it’s a kind of a motivator."
Along with the play of the incumbent starter Richards, Hall was pleased with the weekend play of challengers Nick Patterson (Victoria, B.C.), Kevin Croswell (Peterborough, Ont.) and Chris Seidel (Coquitlam, B.C.). The netminders are building confidence with the team and coaches.
“Patterson has been an outstanding goalie in this league," Hall said. "Sitting out has helped him refocus and reenergize so he's pushing hard for that number two spot. Pushing all of them to raise their game. That’s great for our shooters. When our goaltenders are sharp during camp, it can only do good things to prepare us to start the season.”
Saturday’s training camp session at Comcast Arena’s Community Rink will not be open to the public, however Sunday's 11 a.m. session will be open to season ticket holders.
“Anybody sitting in the stands can see it out there," Hall said. "It’s very entertaining.”
Final cuts to determine the 23-man active roster and three practice roster spots take place on Thursday, Dec. 20.