Athan Iannucci and the Washington Stealth host the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. ET at Comcast Arena in Everett to open the 2013 NLL regular season. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
After a long and frustrating 2012 season, the Washington Stealth hope to make a big statement when they open the 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season at home against the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks at Comcast Arena in Everett on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. ET.
Fans can watch the season opener and the rest of the games all season long on the NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network by clicking here. Listen to the game online on Sportsradio 950 ESPN by clicking here.
Last season, the Stealth struggled all over the floor, most notably on the defensive side in allowing 12.75 goals per game, as only the Philadelphia Wings allowed more goals than the Stealth in 2012.
“We were a little bit too stagnant last year, relying too much on our skills instead of going out and doing the work,” said newly-appointed Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. “We brought in some young gritty, fast guys and with some size that are ready to step in and prove themselves.”
To help shore up the defense, Stealth general manager Doug Locker and head coach Chris Hall added second-round draft picks Tyler Garrison and Justin Pychel, third-round draft pick Tim Henderson as well as rookie free agents David Joyce and Patrick O’Meara to their core group of veteran defensemen.
"I'd say about one-third of our roster is turned over, primarily on the defensive end where we thought we needed to make some improvements," Hall said. "Those guys have been looking strong."
Washington’s offense did not fare much better last season, scoring an average of 11.2 goals per game, third-worst in the NLL. However, Hall was encouraged by the steps the offense made late in the season and with last year’s key additions, Athan Iannucci and Brett Bucktooth, getting a full training camp with the team, the production should be on an upwards curve.
“Our offense is a work in progress,” Hall said. “Towards the end of the year, it started to look like it was coming around. We scored a lot of goals in our last couple of games and I think it’s only going to improve.”
Washington also added sixth-round draft pick Kyle Buchanan to the roster, a 5’9” forward who has impressed his new teammates thus far.
“Buchanan is a shifty player,” said forward Rhys Duch. “He’s got great box lacrosse instincts and I think he’s going to be a great addition to our team.”
Rounding out the eight key additions to the Stealth for the 2013 season is goaltender Nick Patterson, who signed with the Stealth as a free agent this offseason after eight seasons with the Minnesota Swarm. Patterson was brought in to backup incumbert starter Tyler Richards, who missed a quarter of the 2012 season with an injury.
If history has taught the Stealth anything about their opponent, then the Knighthawks will not be taken lightly in this game. Rochester has an 11-4 all-time record against the Stealth organization dating back to the year 2000.
The two teams met once last season when the Knighthawks used a late scoring run to defeat the Stealth by a score of 15-12 at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. Washington was outscored 7-3 in the fourth quarter.
One encouraging result from that game was the offensive production that the Stealth got from the team’s top two scorers in Duch and Lewis Ratcliff, who each scored four goals in the losing effort.
Rochester does look a lot different than they did when these teams met last February. Last season, the Knighthawks went from being a sub-.500 team in the regular season to hoisting the Champion’s Cup in May.
The Knighthawks got even stronger during the offseason by adding forwards Casey Powell and Dan Dawson, in addition to Dan’s brother, defenseman Paul Dawson.
“I expect a very tough opening game,” Hall said. “Obviously, as defending champs, they’re a great team and they added two big pieces with Dan Dawson and Powell. They’ve got a ton of firepower in their offense and I’m expecting an incredibly tough opening match.”
When the teams take the floor tonight, there will be a new captain for the Stealth. Kyle Sorensen was named to the role after the retirement of longtime-captain Jason Bloom. You won’t have to look far to see what Bloom is doing now, as he will be right behind Sorensen on the bench as a member of the Stealth’s coaching staff.
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Sorensen said. “[Bloom] is one of the most well-respected guys in the league and now as a coach. It’s something I’ve strived to do my whole life and it’s a challenge I’m willing to take. I’m looking forward to it. ”
Washington has had a grueling training camp with new faces coming into the team and several longtime teammates being cut from the team, but after an offseason of uncertainty, this team appears ready to prove last year was a fluke and return to the top of the NLL.
“We’re chomping at the bit,” Sorensen said. “We’re one the only team that didn’t get to play an exhibition game so we’re ready to get at it and play against somebody else rather than ourselves.”