By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — While the Washington Stealth will be focused on beating the Philadelphia Wings in tonight’s National Lacrosse League game at Comcast Arena, some of those in attendance might be focused on a familiar face in a not-so-familiar jersey.
Tonight, Wings transition player Paul Rabil returns to Everett for the first time since he was traded last season. Rabil began his NLL career with the Stealth in San Jose in 2009 and spent another two-plus seasons with the franchise after it relocated to Everett. He helped the Stealth win the NLL championship in 2010, the team’s first season in Everett, and return to the title game in 2011.
Many Stealth fans remember Rabil’s overtime game-winner at KeyArena against Edmonton in the West Division final in 2010. That win propelled the Stealth to the NLL Champion’s Cup, where they defeated the Toronto Rock.
“That was a huge goal in our franchise’s history and I remember it well,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “I’m sure our fans remember it well.”
Fearful that Rabil, who resides on the East Coast, would not commit to the team long-term, the Stealth traded him to Edmonton in February of 2012 — just five games into his fourth season with the Stealth. Rabil never reported to Edmonton and sat out the rest of the season. The Rush traded him to Rochester, which dealt him to Philadelphia before the start of the 2013 season.
“We did what we thought was best for the organization knowing that he wasn’t going to be a longtime member of the Stealth,” Hall said.
In exchange for Rabil, Washington received holdout forward Athan Iannucci and a second-round draft pick. The Rush received Rabil and a first-round draft pick, which ultimately became the No. 1 overall selection when the Stealth finished with the league’s worst record (4-12) in 2012. The Rush used that pick to select forward Mark Matthews.
Matthews has scored 37 goals and dished out 30 assists in his rookie season with Edmonton. Iannucci has 21 goals and 24 assists in 13 games for the Stealth this season. Rabil has 17 goals and 21 assists in 15 games for Philadelphia.
While certainly successful at the indoor game, Rabil is widely considered the best field lacrosse player in the world. He is a two-time MVP with his field lacrosse team, the Boston Cannons of Major Lacrosse League.
Bloomberg recently reported that Rabil is the first man in lacrosse to earn more than a million dollars in endorsements. According to his agent, Rabil will earn “a couple of million dollars” in endorsements over the next several years.
Hall said he expects the reception for Rabil to be warm.
“I would expect that our fans would be happy to see Paul Rabil again,” Hall said. “He’s a great lacrosse player and he was great when he came to the Stealth. We won a championship with Paul here and he played a big role in that.”
The Herald tried to contact Rabil this week, but phone calls were not returned.
Stealth forward Rhys Duch said Rabil’s return isn’t on the minds of the players as they get set for the final regular-season game of the season.
“He left under his own accord,” Duch said. “The guy lives on the East Coast. It’s a stressful weekend to fly out here every week and there is no hard feelings that way. He is a good player and we are going to have to prepare for him just as much as all the other guys.”
Rabil’s return is the least of the Stealth’s worries. With a win Washington clinches a home playoff game and the second seed in the West, but could finish as low as fourth in the West should they lose.
“Sooner or later we’ve got to respond,” Hall said of clinching a home playoff game. “We’ve got to respond to the possibilities that exist and the good places that we’ve put ourselves in. I think twice now in the last four games we’ve had an opportunity to do some good things and we haven’t sealed the deal.
“We can’t continue, if we honestly think we can win a championship here.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.