A season that began with so much promise, went out with a whimper.
The Vancouver Stealth concluded what can only be described as a disappointing 2018 National Lacrosse League campaign with an 11-10 loss to the Georgia Swarm in the team’s season finale over the weekend (April 28).
The Stealth finished six games back of a post-season berth.
“Maybe humility,” offered Stealth president and general manager Doug Locker, when asked what he learned over the past five months.
In 2017, the Stealth went 9-9 to finish second in the West Division and earn a home playoff date. Compare that to this season and a 2-16 record.
“It was obviously a super disappointing year,” Locker said, especially considering the team had largely the same roster as the previous year with vastly disappointing results.”
So what happened?
As of Wednesday morning, Locker said the team’s management and coaching staff had not yet delved into a close examination of the game tape, something he expected would begin soon.
What he could say is the team came out of the gate poorly and was unable to recover.
One problem they did not expect was for the team’s top three scoring threats to all have down years.
Logan Schuss had a great first half but struggled in the back half of the season while Corey Small and Rhys Duch had down years altogether.
The trio finished with a combined 73 goals and 204 points in 51 games and their cumulative shooting percentage was .119.
Compare that 2017 when all three had 35 or more goals, finishing with 119 goals and 281 points with a shooting percentage of .164, which translates into 27 less goals.
“Bad starts all at one time and those are tough to recover from. That puts a lot of pressure on your secondary scoring to generate goals when that happens,” Locker said.
Goaltending also had a down year as last year’s surprise Tye Belanger, could not replicate his 2017 breakout campaign nor could off-season addition Brodie MacDonald take advantage when given his opportunity.
That led to Eric Penney earning promotion from the practice roster to earn the starting spot in the fifth game.
But the Stealth were still dead-last in goals against, allowing 277, and in goal differential at -91 over the 18 games, allowing nearly two full goals per game (1.9) ahead of the second-worst team. The team’s goaltending also had a .733 save percentage.
And when one area struggles, it tends to have a trickle down effect.
‘Things happened and we just weren’t able to work our way out of it and it affected other parts of our game,” Locker said.
“When you are not scoring goals, you are not able to stop runs, your defence starts playing a little differently because the goaltenders are seeing so many shots. It just cascades.”
But despite all the struggles, Locker doesn’t think the team is as bad as their record may indicate.
“I just don’t believe that the group that we had that was second in the west the year before and was not much different this year, all of a sudden turned into a bad lacrosse team,” he said. “I just don’t believe that.”
There were positives on the season.
Tony Malcom had a solid first season in Langley, scoring a career high 23 goals and 47 points and Brandon Clelland tripled his career goal output, going from three goals in 16 games to nine in 18 games. He also had a career-best 20 points.
And Locker also mentioned Penney and his .751 save percentage.
“For the most part, he gave us a really good opportunity to win a lot of those games down the stretch,” Locker said.
And the GM was impressed with the closeness of the team and how they didn’t fracture as the season unravelled around them.
“The one aspect that was very telling for us was this was a team that honestly just didn’t quit,” he said.
“The strength and character in the room and how they battled every night … I think reinforces to me that we have the right type of guys.”
The work for Locker and the management team is to evaluate what they do moving forward.
One of the first orders of business is to determine which 10 players the team will protect — and they can only hold on to a maximum of five forwards and one goaltender — ahead of the league’s expansion draft as the league readies for San Diego and Philadelphia to join in time for 2019. That list is due July 1 with the expansion draft a few weeks later.
Locker said he learned some things from watching the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights last summer.
“There can be a lot of creative moments that can happen that can not only improve the expansion teams but also improve the existing teams,” he said.
After that, the team will prepare for the NLL draft in September, although the Stealth do not have either a first or second round pick.