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Season Preview: Vancouver Stealth

From 2010 through 2014, the Stealth played for the National Lacrosse League championship 3 times, winning it all in 2010. Twice in that span, they were not even a playoff team and last year was one of those years. It certainly was a rough go in 2014, with inconsistency plaguing a squad whose minus-42 goal differential was worst in the league. Problems were rampant up and down the floor, which was the impetus for the overhaul this offseason, the most notable move being the trade for forward Johnny Powless. That wasn’t the only move, though, so the big question heading into 2015 is: Will all the shuffling produce a winner? Let’s take a look.

2014 record/playoffs: 4-14 record/no playoffs.

Top 3 returning scorers: Rhys Duch (36 goals, 44 assists for 80 points), Tyler Digby (22-36, 58), Lewis Ratcliff (23-32, 55).

Key additions: Tyler Hass (T), Rory Smith (D), Mitch McMichael (T), Caleb Wiles (F), Joel McCready (F), Tyler Burton (D), Johnny Powless (F).

Key losses: Brett Bucktooth (F, free agency), Mike Grimes (D, trade), Nick Weiss (D, trade), Jeff Moleski (D, free agency), Justin Pychel (D, released), Brett Hickey (F, free agency), Matt Beers (D, hold out list).

Outlook: A 2-1 start gave the Stealth half of their total wins in the first 3 weeks of the 2014 season as the team struggled to find consistency at both ends of the floor. About the only thing the Stealth did consistently last season was lose games, evidenced by 2 separate losing streaks of 5 straight. Going 1-4 in games decided by 1 goal didn’t help either, especially when those 4 losses came in the first 11 games. After that, the wheels had pretty much come off as the Stealth won just once in their final 9 games to head into the offseason with a whimper.

It appears the Stealth were well aware of the problems and this past offseason, GM Doug Locker was busy. No area of the floor was safe as Locker worked the phones to secure deals in an attempt to boost the roster, the biggest deal being the trade for Johnny Powless. And while Powless can certainly help bolster the offense from the left side, the deal also included Joel McCready and his presence as a grinder and hustler from the right side can’t be discounted. He’s one of those guys whose work doesn’t get the credit it deserves and his grit in scoring or clearing space for teammates should be a big boost to a unit that sagged with just 181 goals last winter.

Elsewhere up front, the smooth style of Powless should bring immediate help and it’s clear the Stealth are counting on him as they push the marketing pedal to the metal. He’ll join veterans Lewis Ratcliff and Cliff Smith on the left to balance what veteran Rhys Duch brings from the right side. Tyler Digby is also back on the right side after an impressive rookie season. The overall challenge for the offense is to get more from everyone. Duch led the team with 80 points, but the production after that dropped dramatically as Digby’s 58 points was second on the team.

The middle of the floor will see a nice addition in Tyler Hass, one of the more dynamic and effective transition men in the game today. He’s big and mean on D, quick and smart on the run and can finish up front. He’s also not shy when it comes to dropping the mitts if a bit of policing is required. He’s closer to home now, so that comfort zone could send his value through the roof. The speedy Tyler Garrison is back as well and the return of Mitch McMichael after a year off gives Vancouver even more options in the running game, while veteran Ilija Gajic deepens the unit.

Defensively is where the Stealth have their biggest challenge. Goalie Tyler Richards remains one of the best in the game, especially in the clutch. But he’ll be working with a lot of new runners. Rory Smith was traded for, and his stay-at-home and physical style should be the unit’s anchor, while veterans Chris O’Dougherty and Curtis Hodgson are 2 of the few returning members of the unit eager to atone for last winter.Tyler Burton is not only the fifth player named Tyler on the roster, he’s the third player in Vancouver who played with Rochester over the last couple of seasons, and that playoff experience can only help.

Vancouver certainly will miss the defensive mainstays that gave them one of the more feared defensive units in years past. Surgery has Kyle Sorensen out for the season, Jeff Moleski was allowed to leave as a free agent, Matt Beers is on the hold-out list because of work commitments and Mike Grimes was traded away, as was the promising young talent of Nick Weiss. But, changes were necessary as the team enters its second season in Langley, B.C. Last year’s performance didn’t boost attendance as hoped, so the Stealth need to win and win now if they want to avoid the prospect of moving again, or worse.

So the roster was overhauled. And the risk there, of course, is unfamiliarity and adjustment to habits of new teammates. It can be disastrous. But it could also be a situation where everything clicks right away and the confidence snowballs as the season rolls along. The Stealth are confident they have the right pieces in place, but they won’t know for sure until they get a few “real” games under their belt. And those answers will start to roll in on Jan. 3 in Calgary.

Story courtesy of ILIndoor.com.