By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — Distractions are the last thing a team needs when it’s getting ready to play in a championship game.
So the Washington Stealth players and coaches are doing their best to take in stride the news that they have to play for the National Lacrosse League title not on their home floor, but at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Columbia.
Though the Stealth, winners of the West Division, earned the right to host the Champions Cup against the East Division champion Rochester Knighthawks, Saturday’s game was moved to Langley because of a scheduling conflict at Comcast Arena in Everett.
The immediate reaction was disappointment.
“I think (Comcast Arena) is a great lacrosse rink,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “I think it is a great sporting venue. I think it is wonderfully fan-friendly. I love to coach there. I love the fans. Even at times when we haven’t drawn well, the fans that we have there are incredibly supportive and it is an incredibly loud building.
“Where would my first preference to play this game be? It would be in Comcast 100 times out of 100, but it’s simply beyond my control.”
The Stealth explored several options before moving the game to Langley. They looked at KeyArena in Seattle, where they played the West Division final in 2010, but it was booked. ShoWare Center in Kent also was unavailable and the Tacoma Dome isn’t equipped to host lacrosse.
Hall and a small group of people in the Stealth front office found out late last week that should the team advance, the title game would be played in Canada. They didn’t tell the players until after the Stealth beat Calgary 14-13 Saturday in the West Division final.
“That was going to be a potential distraction for them and you don’t want to think beyond the moment,” Hall said. “We had our hands full thinking of how we were going to beat a very good Calgary team. It was something we really felt the players didn’t need to know because we had lots of time to deal with it should we be fortunate enough to win.”
Following the Stealth’s victory, Hall told his players about the change of venue.
“I found out Saturday after the game,” forward Lewis Ratcliff said. “I think there were obviously people who knew and I wasn’t one of them.”
Some of the players suspected a possible conflict, but like Ratcliff, didn’t know the game was headed to Langley.
The Stealth have experience playing in Langley. They played a preseason game against the Toronto Rock there in 2011 and the building hosted the Stealth’s preseason training camp prior to this season.
Ratcliff and a few other Stealth players call the Langley Events Centre home in the offseason when they play for the Langley Thunder of the Western Lacrosse Association.
“I love playing in Langley because it’s my summer arena and it’s a great venue,” Ratcliff said. “It’s close enough to the people in Seattle that they can come up and watch. It’s also gives the opportunity for a lot more of my friends and family from Vancouver and Victoria to come to the game.”
There are several other players on the Stealth who either live in or have family in southern British Columbia. While there are some positives for them, not playing in the building the Stealth have called home since the team relocated to Everett from San Jose, Calif., prior to the 2010 season isn’t ideal.
“It’s a little bit disappointing that we don’t get a chance to play the game down in Everett because that is home for us and that is where we are most comfortable,” defenseman Mike Grimes said. “It’s definitely an arena I know visiting teams don’t like to come in and play.”
Despite the disappointment of not being able to play at Comcast Arena, the Stealth players and coaches said they are thinking about only one thing — bringing a second championship home to Everett.
“We aren’t really focused on the venue, more so the opponent that we are playing,” Stealth transition player Bob Snider said. “We could play it anywhere, really. We just have to keep our eyes set on what’s happening and limit the distractions around us.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.