The Vancouver Stealth are on a mission to return to the Champion's Cup.
When the Stealth take the floor for the first time in the NLL 2014 season, they'll have a new home. The franchise has moved from Everett, Wash. to Langley, British Columbia and are now known as the Vancouver Stealth.
This isn't their first trip to Langley, however. After becoming the West Division representative in the 2013 Champion's Cup, it was announced that their home stadium in Everett was booked up, so they were forced to play the final in the Langley Events Centre, where they eventually lost to Rochester by an 11-10 score.
Over the summer it was announced that the team would be moving to the LEC full-time, making them the fourth Canadian franchise.
The master plan for the team hasn't changed, however.
After reaching the Champion's Cup three times in the last four years—with one win in those games—the Stealth are looking to get back to the big dance again and, this time, bring the Cup back to the left coast.
Aside from the move north of the border, the Stealth have also made some personnel moves.
The biggest move was a trade in August that saw veteran defenseman and faceoff specialist Bob Snider sent to the Colorado Mammoth for transition Ilija Gajic. The trade means Vancouver will no longer be able to count on winning virtually every faceoff.
Gajic provides more offense and forces more turnovers than Snider, so he is the more versatile player. In a league where rosters have been reduced by two runners, versatility is a prized commodity.
At the same time, it was also announced that rookie defenseman Tim Henderson will be gone on a tour of duty to Afghanistan as part of the Army's artillery division, creating a hole on the defensive unit.
The other big change came at the end of training camp when it was revealed that forward Athan Iannucci had been cut. Iannucci was third on the Stealth in scoring last year with 47 points, so the move was unexpected.
Even with Iannucci gone, the burden to produce offensively still remains in the hands of Rhys Duch. The righty was tops on the Stealth in scoring last year with 96 points—good for third best in the NLL—and led the league in goals with 45.
Once again, Duch is complemented on the left side by veteran sniper Lewis Ratcliff, who picked up 67 points last year, and Cliff Smith, who had a career year, amassing 45 points.
Rookies Tyler Digby and Sean Lundstrom join the forwards, adding depth to the offense.
Digby's stay in Vancouver could be short-lived. He was also drafted this summer by the CFL's expansion team, the Ottawa RedBlacks. As noted by Andrew Bucholtz of Yahoo Sports Canada, if Digby decides to pursue his football career, he might be done with lacrosse after just one season.
The Stealth will also be missing the offensive presence of Brett Bucktooth, at least at the start of the year. Bucktooth starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He earned 44 points last season, fifth-best on the team—his absence will be missed until he's healthy.
There are only two runners on the roster listed as transition players and one of them is on the PUP list with Bucktooth. Mitch McMichael, who was good for a point a game last year, along with 43 loose balls, is hurt, leaving Gajic as the lone member of that group.
Expectations then would be that the defensive unit will have to fill that hole and help push the ball up the floor. Mike Grimes (20 pts, 95 LBs, 14 forced turnovers) and Tyler Garrison (14 pts, 42 LBs, 21 FTs) should be able to help where that's concerned.
Jeff Moleski (13 pts, 66 LBs) and Matt Beers (62 LBs, 19 FTs) help round out a very solid defensive corps.
Tyler Richards is Vancouver's top goaltender and worked the vast majority of the minutes in 2013. With his 10.92 goals-against average (fifth-best in the league), he is steady and reliable.
With Bucktooth and McMichaels on the shelf, there are some question marks that need to be answered for the Stealth, but the core of this team remains excellent and they have the experience to know how to win. It won't be the least bit surprising to see them make yet another deep playoff run in 2014.
The Vancouver Stealth open their regular season on Jan. 4 in Denver when they take on the Colorado Mammoth.
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