Aaron Lommers’ NLL predictions

Last season I picked the Washington Stealth to win the National Lacrosse League’s Champion’s Cup and we all saw how well that turned out. The Stealth finished with the worst record in the league at 4-12 and missed the postseason.

Rest easy Stealth fans, I’m not putting that curse on the team again.

This year, the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks are going to be tough to beat. They came on late last season and swept through the playoffs, proving you don’t necessarily have to have the best regular-season record, you just need to get hot at the right time. And since hoisting the Cup, they’ve added forwards Casey Powell and Dan Dawson, and defenseman Paul Dawson.

That said, I also like what the Philadelphia Wings did this offseason — acquiring former Stealth transition player Paul Rabil as well as forward Jordan Hall. Those two, along with a talented young group led by second-year star Kevin Crowley, should lead the Wings to the East Division title and ultimately to the NLL championship.

As for the West, there are five teams that figure to beat up on each other all season. Calgary is widely considered one of the top two teams in the league, Edmonton made a run to the championship game a year ago and Colorado had the league’s best record for much of the 2012 season. Minnesota was no slouch either, coming on late in the season to qualify for the playoffs and advance to the West Division final.

The only team in the West that didn’t enjoy success last season was Washington, but look for that to change.

Head coach Chris Hall is back and healthy and the “Big Three” of Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch and Athan Iannucci have had a full training camp to get used to each other and should click early in the season. The Stealth will be much improved, but I don’t know that they can go from worst to first.

My pick to come out of the very competitive West Division is the Edmonton Rush. The Rush, like the Knighthawks, struggled early in the 2012 season, but came on late to advance to the championship game. They held a commanding lead at halftime of the title contest, but a second-half collapse gave Rochester the title. With the core of that team returning — and the addition of the No. 1 overall draft pick, forward Mark Matthews — I think the Rush will find their way back to the championship game.

Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald.

AARON’S PICKS

West Division

1. Calgary Roughnecks

2. Edmonton Rush

3. Washington Stealth

4. Colorado Mammoth

5. Minnesota Swarm

East Division

1. Rochester Knighthawks

2. Philadelphia Wings

3. Toronto Rock

x-4. Buffalo Bandits

x-will not make postseason

Note: Since the league consists of nine teams, the final playoff spot can go to the fifth-place team from the West if it finishes with a better record than the fourth-place team from the East. If the fifth-place team from the West qualifies, it takes the No. 4 seed from the East and competes in the East Division playoffs.

Playoffs

West, first round

Calgary over Colorado

Edmonton over Washington

East, first round

Rochester over Minnesota

Philadelphia over Toronto

Western Conference Final

Edmonton over Calgary

Eastern Conference Final

Philadelphia over Rochester

NLL Champion’s Cup

Philadelphia over Edmonton

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