By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — All things considered, the Washington Stealth’s season opener couldn’t have gone any better.
There were more than 7,000 people at Comcast Arena to watch the Stealth defeat the defending National Lacrosse League champion Rochester Knighthawks 13-12 in the only game on the league’s docket last Saturday night.
After a 2012 season in which nothing seemed to go right, everything seemed to go the Stealth’s way against Rochester.
“It was a big victory for us coming off of last year and going into this year with a number of roster changes and all of that,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “So it was a real big win for us.”
But a championship celebration for 2013 is still a long way off. This team has 15 games to play and the schedule doesn’t get much easier tonight when the Stealth face the Colorado Mammoth at 6 p.m. in the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Last year, the Mammoth owned the league’s best record for much of the season, but were ousted in the first round of the West Division playoffs by Minnesota. The Stealth, who proved against Rochester last week that they can play with the league’s best teams, must use what they learned against the Knighhawks and apply it tonight against Colorado, hal said.
“Now that we know that we have the talent and have the ability to be with the top teams in this league, we need to polish our systems and get better and continue to build our chemistry,” Hall said. “We just need to become a more polished team as we work our way through the schedule.”
Playing on the road against one of the NLL’s better teams adds to tonight’s challenge, although the Stealth have done well in the past at the Pepsi Center.
“I think you sort of rise to the challenge a little bit because you know it’s going to be a little bit harder than playing at home,” Hall said. “So you need to focus even harder than we did in our first game and be prepared to know what kind of an environment we are going to walk into so that there are no surprises.
“I think preparation is key to being comfortable in an environment on the road.”
Part of the Stealth’s focus will be directed at slowing down Mammoth forward John Grant Jr. He was the league’s MVP last season and his 116 points broke the NLL scoring record held 11 years by Buffalo Bandits forward John Tavares.
“I think like any sport and any superstar that you are facing, you do what you can to kind of limit their opportunities,” Hall said. “You try to make life as difficult as possible for them. You are never going to shut superstars out. They are going to get their points. But you don’t want these guys running up an extraordinary game against you.
“If you think you are going to shutout guys like John Grant Jr., who are averaging seven and eight points a game, you aren’t going to shut them out and I don’t expect to shut out John Grant Jr. — nobody is going to do it.”
The Stealth are asking a lot of players with little NLL experience to play important roles each week, both offensively and defensively. The team got what it hoped for from those players against Rochester, especially rookie Mitch McMIchael, who was named the NLL’s Transition Player of the Week, and rookie Kyle Buchanan, who was named the Rookie of the Week.
Hall was “thrilled” — but not surprised — to see his young players do well.
“I was pretty confident that they were going to be fine because of the skills they displayed and the intelligence they displayed and the feel for the game they showed during training camp,” Hall said. I wasn’t hesitant at all to use them. I was extremely happy that they validated our opinions of them and our thoughts on how they would play.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.