The Washington Stealth will host the Rochester Knighthawks in the National Lacrosse League Champion's Cup final this weekend.
For the Knighthawks, it is the opportunity they have been chasing all year: to repeat as NLL Champions after taking the title last season.
For the Stealth, it is a shot at redemption after missing the playoffs entirely last year.
For the second year in a row, the road to the finals has not been very smooth for the Knighthawks.
In 2013, controversy swirled around the team as a result of an off-court altercation that resulted in several members of the team being suspended. However, they came together as a team in the home stretch and were able to play their best lacrosse when it counted most.
This year the Knighthawks made a preseason trade to acquire transition star Paul Rabil from the Edmonton Rush. When Rabil refused to report, they moved him to Philadelphia in a multi-player deal that saw Dan and Paul Dawson as the key figures coming to Rochester.
Combined with the return of Casey Powell from a year away from the game due to injury, it was expected that Rochester would have one of the best offenses in the NLL. Things didn't pan out that way, however, and Powell was dealt to the Colorado Mammoth at the trade deadline in exchange for defensive stalwart Jon Sullivan.
Sullivan played in just a single game before being placed on the Hold Out list.
Nevertheless, the K'Hawks finished the regular season with one more win than in 2012, and they are now are just 60 minutes away from taking home the Champion's Cup for a second year in a row.
On the other side of the country, the Washington Stealth have also had their share of challenges.
After the franchise moved from San Jose to Everett, WA, for the 2010 season, the Stealth immediately rewarded their new fan base with a championship, beating the Toronto Rock. The following year, they went to the Champion's Cup again, this time losing to the Rock.
But after establishing themselves as having the makings of a dynasty, the wheels fell off in 2012.
Head coach Chris Hall missed a significant portion of the season while battling throat cancer. Without his leadership, the team crumbled, posting a dismal 4-12 record with the second-fewest goals scored and second-most goals against in the NLL. That made them the lone team in the league to miss the playoffs—a situation they never want to deal with again.
With CH back behind the bench for 2013, the Stealth won three of their first four games and finished the season with a 9-7 record and in a three-way tie for first in the West.
The tiebreaker setup in the league pushed Washington down to the second seed behind the Calgary Roughnecks. But having dispatched Calgary last weekend, the Stealth are now in the driver's seat and playing host to the final game.
Ironically, the Stealth will not be hosting the Champion's Cup in their own stadium. In one last twist on the road to the finals, Comcast Arena in Everett is unavailable due to a scheduling conflict, so the game will be held across the Canadian border in the Langley Events Centre in Langley, BC.
The action gets underway on Saturday at 4 p.m. PT.
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