Editor’s Note: Today we kick off our 2016 NLL Franchise previews by putting the Vancouver Stealth under the microscope. We hope you enjoy this fresh look at the National Lacrosse League – it’s all thanks to the support of SISU Guard, official mouthguard of the NLL.
Vancouver Stealth 2016 Outlook
From my initial count, 21 of the 24 athletes listed on the roster live full-time within two hours of the Langley Events Centre, making the Stealth the most local team in the league. The lack of miles traveled should pay huge divdends for the stamina of the fairly veteran Stealth locker room and for the bank account of the team. Less travel is good for players and it’s good for franchises!
The Stealth were only team from the West to miss the 2015 Playoffs, finished with a -44 goal differential and only managing to win two games on the road last season. These are the three fundamental stats that can’t be repeated in 2016. Although they relocated to an extremely box lacrosse-saturated area, the dismal performance of the team is what likely led to the Stealth’s low attendance average, continuing their streak as the lowest attended franchise every season since 2006. I wouldn’t fret about the attendance too much, as the newer, more intimate, arena the Stealth now call home is nearing capacity at each game which makes for a more tight-knit crowd that just needs to take a lesson from Banditland on how to get rowdy for box lacrosse! I have faith this is the year…
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/9/2016 vs New England @ Home
- Arena: Langley Events Centre
- 2015 Record: 5-13
- 2015 Attendance: Avg 3,734
- Mascot: Bomber (Fox)
- Dance Team: Bombshells
- Website: StealthLax.com
16 of the 24 names on the roster were with the team in 2015 and 2 of the other 8 are rookies, meaning the team is rolling into 2016 with a solid foundation. We’ll get to the guys we are used to, but here’s the noobies:
Former Mammoth (and Stealth) Ian Hawksbee and ex-Roughneck Travis Cornwall were signed as Free Agents in the offseason, bringing in two veterans, both in their early 30s, to bolster the defense. Both guys are coming in from Western teams, so there’s no doubt they’re already familiar with the Stealth style.
The highlight addition to the roster is NLL all-star Garrett Billings from the Black Wolves which sent the monstrous Tyler Digby packing, eventually landing in Calgary. It was just two seasons ago that Billings tore his ACL against his new team, yet still finished 3rd in scoring, a handful of games short of the full season. Last year he got stuck in a bit of a contract dispute with the Rock which eventually sent him to New England. Finally, the right move was made to send Billings back home to Langley, B.C., where he grew up and competes in the WLA with the Langley Thunder, who just happen to share a barn with the Stealth. Sound like a solid fit to the left side of the floor? I thought so.
The only two rookies to make the initial cut are on opposite sides of the floor. Brier Jonathan had a stellar performance for the Iroquois Nationals at the WILC 2015, where he helped secure a silver medal to add to his collection along with a Minto Cup and Founders Cup win. Jonathan was selected by Rochester in 2014, but never saw floor time. Vancouver hopes to capitalize on the experience of the 22 year old defenseman as he looks to fit in with a much older lineup. Jordan Durston is going to clear up space for shooters and provide the big body they lost when moving Tyler Digby. Durston collected back-to-back Minto Cups in his junior years. The kid should be good for a few points per game, but most importantly he’ll be banging bodies to help propel the potentially stellar Stealth offense.
I found the addition of Chris Levis to be one of the more interesting names to make the cut. By the way things are shaping up, Levis is in position to be the oldest backup goalie in the league, sitting behind the youngest starter Eric Penney. But that’s just the plan, Levis was brought in to help Penney develop. Although Levis hasn’t been active in the league since his tenure with the Mammoth that ended a few years, the veteran lives right in Langley and even runs the local Levy’s Source for Sports. It’s cool to see a hometown guy making himself valuable to his local organization.
Depending on your allegiance, you’re either extremely excited to watch the Stealth offense this winter, or you’re extremely afraid of what they can do you your defense. Rhys Duch punched in 41 goals last season, making his way to the #1 spot on the all-time Stealth points and goals sheets. Even though Corey Small only saw 15 games, he finished 2015 with 71 total points. These two hot sticks were joined by 2014 ROY Logan Schuss halfway through the year where he tallied a staggering 34 points in just 7 games.
Another two familiar faces are back for another round, righty Joel McCready is coming off a 30 goal season and the best run statistically of his 7-year career. Cliff Smith is a guy due for a highlight season. If Smith can get the boys open and score at least a goal a game, he’s going to fill the right role for the Stealth. By the looks of it, he’s going to be sharing some minutes with Durston.
Joining them will be all-star Garrett Billings and young blood Jordan Durston. I think I said enough about these two in the New Faces section, so let’s wait and see if the offseason moves pan out.
The power-play of Billings, Schuss, Duch, Small and McCready is going to be scary effective and early, I can just feel it. This is the team of 5 to keep an eye on in 2016.
It’s time to rejoice Stealth fans, Matt Beers is back after his hiatus for firefighting. The inseparable Jeff Moleski and Curtis Hodgson tandem is going to have some serious help from some familiar faces. Chris O’Dougherty stayed active over the off-season, picking up the Bronze with Team USA in the WILC 2015 and is charging into his 7th season in the league with his head down after what was arguably his best season yet.
Joining the Stealth staples are Ian Hawskbee from Colorado and the rookie Brier Jonathan. With only 3 defensemen under 30, and only 1 under 25, the defense can really serve as the backbone for Vancouver if the elder statesmen can stay healthy.
A big change for the defense comes from the shifting of roles for long-time Stealth veteran Kyle Sorenson, who has been with the organization since 2006. Over the years the towering Sorenson has been a loud voice on the floor, I couldn’t imagine it will be hard for the familiar Stealth defense to get familiar with his voice constantly in their ears. Hawksbee and Jonathan are the only names on the defensive side the Sorenson hasn’t shared a floor with.
The transition team is young, fast, but going to be likely given the red light to let the high-powered Stealth offense onto the floor. The trade for Travis Cornwall brings in a role-player with a defensive mind to join four other names that were with the Stealth in 2015. The smallest, and youngest, of the bunch is Brandon Clelland, who earned his spot back with the Stealth after a decently successful rookie year, nabbing 30 loosies in 10 games. There’s no one scrapping for a spot on the team like Clelland, this could be his breakout season. Another youngster, Tyler Garrison, is likely to make the most of his off-season where he earned a Silver Medal with the Iroquois Nationals.
Justin Salt and Mitch McMichael has also returned for the 2016 campaign. At the moment, McMichael is going to be heavily relied upon at the draw circle. Their go-to man in 2015, McMichael finished the year with a 52% win average, a number that needs to be matched or better this season. He will be likely joined by Garrison who took a good number of draws with the Iroquois at the WILC. This will be Salt’s 5th year with the squad, coming off a 2015 season where he recorded 10 goals, 9 assists and 75 loose-balls in 18 games.
Following the retirement of Tyler Richards who stood tall for 7 seasons, Salmonbellies net minder and 2015 Stealth backup Eric Penney was handed the reigns as the replacement and new starter for 2016. Penney is young, getting healthier and had an incredible summer with New West earning the WLA Goaltender of the Year award.
A three-way battle broke out in training camp between Cody Hagedorn, Chris Levis and Adam Schute. By the looks of the roster, Levis is bringing the most to the team, but local product Hagedorn had his name inked to the practice squad for the second year running. It’s likely that Hagedorn will find sometime on the bench this season, but the youthful Penney is going to stand tall for all the minutes they can throw at him.
Calling it Early
I think the Stealth have the tools to make a run at the Champion’s Cup, but I also kinda had the same feeling this time last year. Although Powless didn’t pan out, the move for Schuss brought serious fire to the offense, unfortunately a little too late in the season.
Health is always an issue, guys are going to go down, people can also get traded but from the looks of things as they are, the Vancouver Stealth should be a much better contender this year than they were in 2015. We will get a much better look come January 9th when they host the New England Black Wolves
The very first Stealth game of the season is at home (1/9/16) in the Langley Events Centre! I plan on making the trip out, let me know in the comments below if you plan on making the trip out!
Next Up: Toronto Rock