By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
After finishing with the National Lacrosse League’s worst record in 2012, the 4-12 Washington Stealth decided things had to change.
“I thought we were a bit complacent last year and some people maybe got a little bit too comfortable here,” head coach Chris Hall said. “So that was the mission in the offseason … to go out and find some new, aggressive players that were real hungry and want to come and play here.”
Two weeks into training camp, that mission appears to have been accomplished. The young players brought in through free agency and the draft are pushing the veterans “real hard,” Hall said.
“The free agents and the draftees are a strong group,” Hall said. “I continue to be real happy with that. It’s going to make our decision-making after this upcoming weekend pretty difficult because there are some strong kids out there that have a lot of skill and they bring high energy. … There are going to be some hard, hard decisions that have to be made on Sunday afternoon.”
The Stealth continue their training camp Saturday and Sunday at Comcast Arena in Everett. Sunday morning’s practice is the final one before the team makes its final cuts. Hall said there might be a few jaws dropping when the final roster is announced.
“I think there are going to be some surprises just because of the quality of the kids we have and the energy they are bringing,” he said.
Perhaps the most impressive of the young players has been forward Kyle Buchanan, the Stealth’s sixth-round pick in the 2012 NLL entry draft. At 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds Buchanan is undersized, but he makes up for his lack of size with skill and smarts.
“On offense I feel like Kyle Buchanan has been very impressive, his lacrosse sense and his vision, his creativity on offense and his hustle have been very impressive,” Hall said. “He’s consistently, over three weekends now, been absolutely outstanding. I keep asking (general manager) Doug Locker how that guy could have lasted until the sixth round.”
Another pleasant surprise has been defenseman Tim Henderson. Henderson was selected by the Stealth in the third round of the 2012 draft (23rd overall) and has taken an interesting road to the NLL. Henderson jumped at the chance to play in the NLL despite the fact he’s an active member of the U.S. Army.
Henderson’s background is in field lacrosse and Hall has been impressed with the way he has adjusted to the indoor game.
“He has a bit of a steep learning curve in trying to learn the indoor game as quickly as possible, but, boy, as far as raw talent and ability he is an impressive athlete,” Hall said. “I watched Tim play in the North-South game at Harvard in the summer, the NCAA sort of all-star game or graduate game, and I was watching with Doug. I didn’t know the kid before I was watching him play. I was literally sitting in the stands at Harvard going, ‘I need to know who that guy is.’ Because he was a beautiful graceful runner, an aggressive checker and he would descend on people and was relentless until he either got the ball off them or they gave it up. When they gave the ball up, you could see him be frustrated because he wanted to take it off the person.”
Hall also mentioned rookie defensemen Justin Pychel and Tyler Garrison as youngsters who have impressed at camp.
The influx of new talent, combined with a group of veterans who have experience winning at the highest level, has produced a different atmosphere than a year ago, Hall said.
“I think there is less a sense of entitlement and more a sense of accountability,” he said. “When the veterans look around, I hear them saying, ‘This is the best camp we’ve ever had.’ In terms of competitiveness and fighting for jobs and intensity, there is some real fire out there. I think there is a lot of mutual respect out there amongst the players that there are no weak links. Everyone on that floor I wouldn’t hesitate to throw into a lineup tomorrow and they would be just fine.
“There is that real sense of ‘We are not going to where we went last year.’”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.