LANGLEY, B.C. — When a professional sports franchise relocates, it invariably creates some hurt feelings in the city left behind.
No doubt that was the case last June when the Washington Stealth of the National Lacrosse League announced that after four seasons in Everett, they were moving to Langley, British Columbia.
“After the initial announcement, certainly there were some people who probably felt betrayed and people felt that we left them,” Stealth general manager and president Doug Locker said. “In reality, really what we were trying to do was stay alive, keep the franchise going and provide an opportunity to operate and keep going and try to convince people (in the Everett area) that we were only 85 miles away.”
At least two fans didn’t need much convincing.
Woody Wood of Arlington and his wife, Kyoko, had been season-ticket holders since the Stealth arrived in Everett from San Jose, California, prior to the 2010 season. They didn’t let a move to another country stop them from supporting their team.
“We weren’t real disappointed when they moved up to B.C. because we come up here often and we have Nexus passes,” Wood said. “It’s 85 miles from our house. We drive up and we’ll drive back after the games. It’s not a big deal. … There were a lot of fans from Canada that were coming down to Everett, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to turn around and come up here.”
Of the Stealth’s nine home games this season, Wood and his wife missed just one. And they weren’t alone in their support. “Quite a few people from Washington come up for the games,” Wood said.
As the season progressed, Locker noticed more and more fans from Washington making the trek to Langley.
“Maybe after the bitterness kind of wore off a little with those hard-core fans, more and more of them are starting to come back,” he said, “and that certainly makes you feel good when you see those people around the rink.”
Still, after attending games in Canada, Wood said the atmosphere in Langley didn’t quite match what he experienced in Everett.
“The fans were louder (in Everett),” he said. “They were more engaged in the game. I think Everett really had great (lacrosse) fans as they have great hockey fans.”
The popularity of lacrosse in British Columbia mixed with the Stealth’s poor on-field performance — they finished 4-14, tied with Minnesota for the worst record in the NLL — might have had something do with the muted enthusiasm.
“As much as there are people that are knowledgeable or maybe more familiar about the sport than there was in Everett, in Everett the fan base was very, very vocal,” Stealth forward Cliff Smith said. “They were Stealth fans first. Here we’re still earning the fans. In Everett they were Stealth fans, and here we’re still converting lacrosse fans into Stealth fans.”
At least two fans already have purchased their season tickets for next season — Wood and his wife.
“I’ve grown past depending on a win to enjoy a game,” Wood said. “I can enjoy a game win or lose. They always play a full game and they always try real hard. The effort is always there.
“I haven’t been disappointed once this season.”
Aaron Lommers covered the Stealth for The Herald during the team’s stay in Everett. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.