Washington Stealth 2013 NLL Preview: Crazy Like a Fox or Just Crazy?
Curiously, their strategy for getting better seems to be standing pat. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, so the million-dollar question for the Stealth is what are they thinking?
The plan might not be as crazy as it seems at first blush.
Head Coach Chris Hall missed nearly half of the 2012 season while dealing with a cancerous tumor in his throat. The Stealth got off to a dismal 1-5 start without Hall and were never able to get back on track when he returned.
Hall guided Washington to two straight trips to the Champion's Cup final prior to last season. With him back at the helm from the get-go this year, there's a good chance he can start them off on the right foot and turn their fortunes back around.
Probably the biggest change in the Stealth roster for the 2013 season will be the absence of team captain Jason Bloom. He announced his retirement in October after six seasons and will be moving behind the bench as part of Hall's coaching staff.
Bloom's captaincy has been handed over to defenseman Kyle Sorensen.
Also gone is Kyle Hartzell, sent to the Philadelphia Wings in exchange for a draft pick in this year's draft.
The rest of the 2012 roster remains virtually intact.
The offense will once again be powered by Washington's big three of Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci.
Duch led the attack with 79 points while Ratcliff scored the most goals on the team with 36. Iannucci added 45 points in just 11 games after coming over from the Edmonton Rush mid-season.
Iannucci, in particular, will be called upon to share more of the scoring burden. As the NLL record holder for most goals in a season (71 in 2008), the Stealth will be looking for big things out of him in a full season.
Sorensen, Jeff Moleski and Eric Martin will take care of business on the defensive end while Bob Snider will take care of the bulk of the transition duties.
Snider will also take most of the faceoffs, as always. Snider and his brother, Geoff, are far and away the top two drawmen in the NLL—Bob's 319 faceoff wins last year set the all-time record while Geoff's 274 were the third time he has placed in the top 10 all time.
The Stealth have re-signed goaltender Tyler Richards for the 2013 season. Although his 12.70 goals against was the worst among regulars in the NLL, his .771 save percentage was fourth best. If Washington's defense can keep the shots on goal down, Richards will be tough to beat most nights.
To that end, the Stealth loaded up on defensive talent at this year's draft. They had three second-round picks and used them all on defenders. Tyler Garrison, Bill Hostrawser and Justin Pychel will all be seeking to find a place on the roster.
On the offensive side of things, third round pick Mitch Jones is highly touted and could compete for a spot. Free agent signings Peter Jacobs, Brett Hickey, Ryan Johnson and Jerome Thompson will also all get close looks in training camp.
In their first two years in Washington, the Stealth went to the Champion's Cup twice, winning the whole enchilada once. Finishing out of the playoffs in their third year in town was a shocker to everyone in the organization. A return to respectability this season isn't just hoped for, it's expected.
Whether the same group that took them from first to worst can take them back to first again remains to be seen. Their first challenge will be taking on the defending NLL champions, the Rochester Knighthawks, in their season opener at home on January 5.
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