Vancouver Stealth home opener set for Saturday as NLL returns to B.C.
Washinton Stealth (left to right) Cam Sedgwick, Matt Beers and Chris O'Dougherty watch the Toronto Rock celebrate their 8-7 win in the championship game in Toronto on Sunday May 15, 2011. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, January 9, 2014 2:49PM EST
VANCOUVER -- Doug Locker expects there to be some poignant moments when his Vancouver Stealth meet the Minnesota Swarm this weekend.
The National Lacrosse League franchise -- which consists of 14 players born in British Columbia -- will take the floor in its first home game on Saturday since relocating to the Lower Mainland from Everett, Wash., in the off-season.
"It's going to be an emotional night," said Locker, the Stealth's president and general manager. "I think it will hit our players in warmups that they will be playing (in their home province) in front of friends and family."
The Stealth are the league's second foray into the Vancouver area following the Ravens, who folded in 2004 after three seasons.
Unlike the previous NLL incarnation that played at the cavernous home of the Vancouver Canucks, the Stealth have set up shop in suburban Langley -- one of the hotbeds of lacrosse in the region.
Something the Stealth also have going for them that the Ravens didn't is a winning tradition.
The Stealth spent the last four seasons in Everett and made three NLL championship games, winning the title in 2010. The Ravens, meanwhile, never won a playoff round in their three years of existence.
But the Stealth's success didn't resonate at the ticket window or with corporate sponsors.
"We just didn't have the momentum we wanted to see in terms of growth," Locker said when asked why the franchise moved north after the 2013 campaign. "When you go to a championship three out of four years, you expect to see growth.
"There were some great hardcore fans, but not enough support in the end."
Cue the move to Langley, which sits about 40 kilometres from Vancouver's downtown core.
Head coach and vice-president of lacrosse operations Chris Hall, in his sixth season with the Stealth, said fans can expect a competitive product right out of the gate.
"The franchise has a winning pedigree and it's very stable in terms of ownership, executive, coaching and its core group of players," he said. "I think that's a big factor in why the team will succeed. People don't have to wait for us to win. We're clearly a top contender in the league right off the bat."
Hall added that another plus is the club's focus on local players and those from across B.C. to help build its brand.
"There's a wealth of talent in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island," said Hall. "It's great that we have the talent pool that we have to choose from in B.C. and it's great that these guys can play in front of their friends and family."
Vancouver, which lost its season opener last weekend 13-12 to the Colorado Mammoth in Denver will play its home games at the Langley Events Centre. The venue that opened in 2009 seats just over 5,000 spectators and the team is expecting it to be at or near capacity for the Stealth's first home game.
"It's a cosy atmosphere, there isn't a bad seat in the house. The fans are going to be right on top of the game," said Hall. "(NLL) brings great entertainment value and affordable tickets. I think it's going to do very well."
Among the talent the Stealth possess on their roster is Victoria's Rhys Duch, who led the NLL in goals last season and had four more, to go along with two assists, in last weekend's opener.
"He's a pretty spectacular player to watch and one of the best in the game, bar none," said Hall. "It's pretty great to have the league's leading goal scorer on your team."
Add to that Alex Gajic of Burnaby, B.C., who had one goal and seven assists against Colorado, and rookie Tyler Digby of New Westminster, B.C., who had six points (three goals, three assists) in his debut and it doesn't look like the Stealth will be hurting on offence.
"We've got a very good team," said Hall. "We've got good size and athleticism and a very good mix."