Before the Washington Stealth can raise their 2010 National Lacrosse League championship banner into the rafters of Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash. on Sunday, they’ll have to get by the Colorado Mammoth.
However, beating the Mammoth on Saturday night in Denver won’t necessarily be an easy task for the Stealth.
Though Colorado had their worst season since moving to Denver with a 4-12 record in 2010, the team still showed why the Pepsi Center is the toughest place to play in the league as their average margin of defeat at home was by 2.25 goals. Also five of their home losses were by just one point.
And even though Colorado didn’t win any of their eight home games in 2010, they still averaged 15,037 fans, second among NLL franchises last season.
The Stealth and the Mammoth played each other four times 2010, with Washington winning all four games. However, two of the Stealth’s wins were by one goal in which they scored the game-winner in the final two minutes of regulation.
The Stealth also won by three goals in a game on March 27 in Everett, where they scored three times in the final 2:30.
Washington is coming off an offseason where they didn’t make many roster moves, as they return 20 players on their 23-man active roster from last season.
The Stealth’s three new additions they hope will help them on defense as head coach Chris Hall felt that they didn’t have enough balance at the backend.
“We felt that we really had to strengthen the left side of our defense, we were dominant right,” Hall said. “We thought we needed some more balance. We were able to get Jeff Moleski in a trade with Calgary and we were fortunate enough to get Chris McElroy as an unrestricted free agent. Then in the dispersal draft we got Chet Koneczny from Orlando. That was the area that we needed to improve on and we think that we got three good ones there.”
For Colorado, 2010 was a rebuilding year of sorts as the team had their fair share of young talent. This season is a different story as they hope second-year players Alex and Ilija Gajic contribute more offensively then they did last season.
The Mammoth also traded for NLL All-Star John Grant Jr. and used an early draft pick to select Ned Crotty out of Duke University to increase their firepower up front. Grant last season finished fourth in the league in goals with 39 while Crotty finished his Duke career with him finding the back of the net 92 times.
However, the indoor game is new for Crotty, but Colorado head coach Bob Hamley sees a lacrosse player that wants to get better in him.
“We really love Ned’s attitude,” Hamley said. “He’s had a lot of success in field lacrosse and the indoor game is new to him. He has the attitude where he wants to improve every drill, every time out. His attitude is going to carry him a long way and he loves the game already and that is going to do us well.”
Colorado will look to spoil the beginning of Washington’s journey for their second title as the two square off on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. The game can be viewed on television on Altitude 2 or on the NLL Network at NLL.com.
All 10 NLL teams will be in action on Saturday as the league begins its 25th season. Here is a look at the other five games this weekend.
Edmonton Rush at Toronto Rock—Saturday Jan. 8, 7 p.m. ET
It will be a battle of two Canadian teams as the Rush look to build on last season where they made the playoffs for the first time in team history while the Rock want to prove that their trip to the 2010 championship game wasn’t a fluke.
Unlike the Rock’s opponent in that championship game (the Stealth), who didn’t make many roster moves, Toronto made 11 in the offseason. They added players like Patrick Merrill and Kyle Ross to help on defense and Tim O’Brien and longtime veteran Pat Maddalena on offense to help Colin Doyle with scoring.
“We felt as a team that we needed to improve and it looks good,” said Rock general manager Terry Sanderson about his roster. “We are happy with what it looks like on paper but at the end of the day you have to go out and play. Edmonton is a great way to start. It will be a good first test of many.”
Edmonton made their own changes as well on defense, bringing in Bill Greer and Bruce Murray to replace Chris McElroy and Bruce Alexander.
The game begins at 7 p.m. ET from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The contest can be viewed live on TSN in Canada or on the NLL Network at NLL.com in the United States (blackout for Canadian viewers).
Matt Sawyer of the Boston Blazers and John Tucker of the Philadelphia Wings will be making their head coaching debuts with their new squads on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Tucker, a long-time player of the Wings, had called the shots behind the bench in the NLL with the Baltimore Thunder (1997-99) and the Pittsburgh Crossefire (2000). But in his return to his old playing grounds, he wants this team to do the simple things better in order to get back to the postseason.
“I think we have gotten away from hustling to the bench, getting after rebounds, making sure we outwork guys to loose balls,” Tucker said. “Little things that add up to a total team performance. We’ve had glimpses of those things in the past, but we have never really put it together. We’ve drafted and formed a team that is committed to those small things and the details that it will take to get back to the playoffs.”
Sawyer didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for his first NLL head coaching spot as he was hired on Dec. 28 after Boston fired Tom Ryan two days before Christmas.
Like Tucker, the former Toronto assistant coach will focus more on the internal workings of the team and making sure that they execute their own game plan each week.
“I’m a big believer as a coach that you worry about yourself,” Sawyer said. “You worry about your game first and you let the chips fall where they may. Our focus this year will be on ourselves and our team internally and we will take each opponent as they come each week. This first week we will really focus on what we do. It doesn’t matter what kind of game plan that you have if you don’t execute or play well.”
Rochester Knighthawks at Minnesota Swarm—Saturday Jan. 8, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Rochester Knighthawks and the Minnesota Swarm hope the 2011 season will be a one of improvement in which both teams make deep runs into the playoff.
Rochester brought in a bunch of new faces in the offseason. However after shipping John Grant Jr., their leading scorer in 2010, to Colorado, they’ll look for many of the younger players to step up and fill that void and not just the 2010 first overall draft pick, Cody Jamieson.
“Cody is a big piece to our puzzle,” said Knighthawk head coach Mike Hasen. “We’re not putting huge expectations on him. John [Grant Jr.] is a dynamic player, a great player, but we are looking for Cody to just be Cody.”
Minnesota last season made the playoffs in the West with a 5-11 record, but they know that they may not have the same fortune this season with that mark.
For the Swarm, head coach Mike Lines said his team needs to play a full 60 minutes every night and have many of their younger players step up to the challenges of the season.
Another great season by Callum Crawford, Aaron Wilson and Ryan Benesch wouldn’t hurt Minnesota either as the three scored 96, 89 and 83 points respectively in 2010.
Buffalo Bandits at Calgary Roughnecks—Saturday Jan. 8, 9:30 p.m. ET
On Wednesday the city of Calgary got some disheartening news, the Roughnecks are up for sell. People in the organization have said that they want to keep the team in Calgary, but the thought that the 2011 campaign may be the franchises last is still in the back of many fans' heads.
For the Rigger, they would like nothing more than another championship like they had in 2009. And even though they finished second in the West last season with a 10-6 record, they want to forget how that year ended—in the first round of the playoffs to Alberta rival, the Edmonton Rush.
Saturday night is going to be an emotional night for many of the Roughnecks as Tracey Kelusky of the Buffalo Bandits will be making his first return to Calgary, a place where he played his last eight seasons.
“Tracey is the constant professional and one of the best to play this game,” Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym said. “When you face a player with his capabilities, you hope to contain him. It is going to be an emotional night for him and for a lot of us to see a guy who was our bread-and-butter leader and the backbone of our team. It is unfortunate that he is going to be wearing a Bandits uniform but once the ball is dropped, all bets are off.”
The Bandits made the playoffs in 2010 with an 8-8 record, but started the season slow, going 1-5 to start the season. Head coach Darris Kilgour will look for a faster start to the year this time around.
“It was almost too late and we were lucky to squeeze into the playoffs last year,” Kilgour said. “I think we kept the guys that showed that they are going to battle and play hard for the Buffalo Bandits. The guys that didn’t really step up or play better in the second half, we made changes. I think everybody understands we can’t come out the same way as we did last season.”
Calgary Roughnecks at Washington Stealth—Sunday Jan. 9, 8 p.m. ET
If all goes well for the Washington Stealth in week one, they’ll be 2-0 to start their journey in defending their NLL Championship.
However, it won’t be easy as they’ll travel to Denver on Saturday before returning to Everett to play their home opener on Sunday against a tough Calgary squad.
“We have to travel twice over the weekend, to Denver and then back to Everett while Calgary is at home and just needs to travel to Everett on Sunday,” said Washington head coach Chris Hall. “We have to travel one more time and that presents some tiresome and fatigue issues. I think we just try and manage those things the best that we can."
“The other difficulty is that you have to prepare for two different opponents over the same weekend and that always presents some logistical issues. You don’t have as much time to prepare for your second opponent as you do for the first. But Calgary is also in the same boat, having to prepare for two opponents as well.”
The Stealth players have already received their championship rings, but the team will raise their championship banner on Sunday against the Roughnecks.
All of this weekend’s National Lacrosse League games can be viewed on the NLL Network at NLL.com.