By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — When former Washington Stealth transition player Jason Bloom announced his retirement last October, it meant not only did the Stealth have to replace one of their key players, but they also had to find a new leader to wear the captain’s “C” on his jersey.
The Stealth wasted little time announcing that defenseman Kyle Sorensen, who was an assistant captain a year ago, would be the captain for the 2013 season.
“The thinking of Kyle Sorensen was probably the easiest thing to do,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “I think if you asked any one of our players and you asked any one of our coaches and you asked (general manager) Doug Locker who the new captain of the Washington Stealth should be, I’m pretty sure you would have got a unanimous answer that it should be Kyle Sorensen.
Hall said Sorensen has been a leader on the team since the Stealth selected him with the second overall pick in the 2006 NLL entry draft. Sorensen’s had his best season in 2009, scoring four goals, dishing eight assists and collecting 97 loose balls. In his seven seasons, he has 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) and has picked up 347 loose balls.
“As soon as Bloomer announced his retirement, I was kind of looking forward to (being captain), kind of hoping,” he said. “But actually when it happened, I was like ‘(oh shoot) I’m going to be the captain of an NLL lacrosse team.’
“It was humbling, but it made me anxious. I had a lot of mixed emotions I guess would be the best way to say it. There were ups-and-downs. I was nervous. I was excited. In the end, it was something that I had wanted for a long time now so I was pretty happy to accept it.”
If the on-floor performance of the team is any indication, the Stealth responded to Sorensen right away. Washington opened the season with a 13-12 victory over the defending NLL champion Knighthawks and a convincing 17-13 victory over Colorado. After five games, the Stealth are in first place in the NLL’s West Division with a half-game lead over Calgary.
Sorensen wasn’t alone in his new leadership role, forward Rhys Duch and defenseman Mike Grimes were also named assistant captains this season. It is the first time Duch has worn the “A” for the Stealth. Grimes filled in as assistant captain for a few games last season when Sorensen and now-retired forward Cam Sedgwick were injured.
Duch has been one of the premier offensive players in the league since joining the Stealth via the NLL draft before the 2009 season. He has had more than 80 points in all but one of his four previous seasons in the league. His best season came in 2011 when he scored 42 goals and had 48 assists. His ability to score goals when the game is on the line has earned him the nickname “Clutch Duch.”
Being named assistant captain surprised Duch.
“There are so many leaders and veterans on our team,” he said. “It’s obviously an honor, I’m sure everybody says that. But I think I was a little bit surprised and grateful for the opportunity. It’s going to help me grow as an individual and as a person as well as in the lacrosse community.”
Grimes reacted similarly.
“It was a huge honor and something I take very seriously,” he said.
Both Duch and Grimes communicate with Sorensen often and the three of them try to come up with areas in which they can help the team. Some of their new responsibilities include being more vocal at practice and during games. They are expected represent the team with class both on and off the floor. And Duch said they also serve as a communication link between the players and the coaches.
Talking to the referees during games also is a responsibility of the captains. Throughout the league, in order to speak to an official players are supposed have an A or a C on their jersey. The transition has been an interesting one for Sorensen.
“I might have been an emotional player in the past years and a little bit immature is probably the best way to say it,” he said. “I don’t if much of the refs like me as much anymore, so I kind of have to build back that relationship with them. It’s pretty much what they say you have to kind of do.
“You almost have to treat them as if they are customs officers or something like that because they have control over the whole game. The way they feel and the way they want to ref — it’s one of those leagues that they have so much control over. I have to respect them the same way that I think they should respect us.”
After tonight’s game in Rochester, the Stealth will be just more than one-third of the way through the NLL season. Sorensen said there is a lot of room for improvement both on the floor and from the new captains.
“I think I would give myself a 61/2, maybe a 7,” Sorensen said. “Maybe if we were 5-0 it might be a little higher. There is definitely room for improvement. We are always driving to be better. I don’t think we have done a terrible job. I don’t think that’s the case, but at the same time there is lots of room for improvement.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.