EVERETT — When the Washington Stealth face the Edmonton Rush tonight at Comcast Arena, Stealth head coach Chris Hall insists he won’t be thinking about what might have been.
The Rush used the first pick in the 2012 NLL entry draft to select left-handed forward Mark Matthews. The first-round pick was traded to the Rush by the Stealth along with transition player Paul Rabil for right-handed forward Athan Iannucci and ultimately became the No. 1 pick in the draft when the Stealth finished with the National Lacrosse League’s worst record at 4-12.
While many lacrosse insiders described Matthews as a can’t-miss prospect, Hall said the thought of having Matthews in a Stealth jersey doesn’t even cross his mind.
“Never, and I’m adamant about that, never,” Hall said. “Never, never in our wildest dreams would we have expected to finish last in the league last year after coming off two championship seasons and potentially giving up the number one draft pick overall. I don’t think about it and I don’t dwell on it in the least little bit. I never think of the what-ifs. I don’t think it was even in the remotest possibility to be foreseen.
“I think we made a great move at the time to trade Rabil to get Iannucci and I think if you look at what we are doing right now it only emphasizes the fact that we made the right move at the right time.”
What the Stealth are doing has the entire league taking notice. After just four wins a year ago, the Stealth are 2-0 with wins over the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks and the Colorado Mammoth, who held the NLL’s best record for much of the 2012 regular season. Through two games, the Stealth are averaging 15 goals per game, while giving up just 121/2. Washington also had a 11/2 game lead going in the third weekend of the season over every team in the West Division after winning its first two games and all of the other teams in the division dropping their first.
“It’s a long season, but it’s a short season,” Hall said. “I’ve always been pretty adamant about the fact that we need to get off to an early start and I’m obviously very happy where we are right now. Everything that needed to happen for us (last weekend) happened for us and every team in our division lost. We couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.”
Last season it was the Stealth who found themselves in an early hole and trying to dig out, this season it is the other teams in the West Division that will have to do the digging. Hall has made it a point to say that there isn’t much difference between worst and first in the NLL and the Stealth are proving it so far in 2013.
“It was a perfect storm in reverse last year,” Hall said. “It was a Murphy’s Law kind of thing or it seemed to be for the team and whatever could go wrong, it did. So, you know what, to be able to rebound back and we made a bunch of changes. We have made changes on our coaching staff and we changed our personnel to be able to be 2-0 and sitting in a position that we are looking at game three at home against a divisional opponent is fantastic. We really couldn’t ask for more right now.”
Improving to 3-0 won’t be any easy task. The Rush finished just 6-10 in the regular season a year ago, but dominated the West Division playoffs with a 19-11 victory in the opening round over Calgary and a 15-3 win over Minnesota in the West Final. They held a halftime lead over Rochester in the NLL championship game, only to eventually fall to the Knighthawks 9-6.
“Even though they made it to the championship last year they still felt that they needed to make some changes,” Hall said of the Rush. “I think they made some pretty good changes on offense. Their defense is more or less intact from last year, which was great and their goaltending as well. But I think (head coach) Derek (Keenan) felt he needed to make some changes on offense and I think he was probably right. If they needed to improve in one area that was the area they felt they needed to improve.”
If the first game is any indication, getting Matthews and rookie right-handed forward Curtis Knight is going to help. Both players scored three goals and had two assists apiece to lead the way for the Rush in a 10-9 loss to Toronto in Edmonton’s season opener.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.