The captains are in place, and the Langley-based Vancouver Stealth are ready, or at least hoping, to turn things around in 2015.
It all starts this Saturday, Jan. 3, when the Stealth open their National Lacrosse League season on the road against the Calgary Roughnecks.
The Stealth will be looking to bounce back from a miserable 2014 campaign, their first in Langley after relocating from Everett, Wash., in the summer of 2013.
After jumping out to a 2-1 start, the Stealth ended up losing 13 of their final 15 games of the season to finish with an NLL-worst 4-14 record.
They finished tied with the Minnesota Swarm for last in the NLLâ€™s West Division, and their record matched the Swarmâ€™s as the worst in the entire nine-team league, which includes the four-team East Division.
The Stealthâ€™s terrible season was in stark contrast to 2013, when the then-Washington Stealth played for the Championâ€™s Cup (NLL title), losing the championship game 11-10 to the Rochester Knighthawks at the Langley Events Centre.
Nine-year NLL veteran and NLL champion Curtis Hodgson will wear the â€œCâ€ for the Stealth this season.
Rhys Duch and Cliff Smith will be the assistant captains.
â€œI feel really grateful to lead this team,â€ Hodgson said. â€œWeâ€™ve got a terrific group of guys that have come together. As a cagey veteran on the squad, Iâ€™m privileged to lead these guys. Iâ€™m really excited about the opportunity.â€
Looking back at last season, Hodgson said injuries and consistency stung the team.
â€œWe didnâ€™t get a lot of things working for us, off the hop,â€ Hodgson said. â€œWe had several injury issues and we struggled to find consistency. We had to make several changes to the team throughout the year in response and we never got any consistency or momentum going. We lost a lot of close games. It was just one of those things where anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.â€
Hodgson added that off-season moves â€“ including the addition of 21-year-old phenom Johnny Powless, one of the finalists for the 2014 Lou Marsh Award, recognizing Canadaâ€™s Top Athlete â€“ shows that the Stealth are â€œcommitted to being betterâ€ and that a repeat of last seasonâ€™s misfortunes, â€œwonâ€™t be tolerated.â€
The word Hodgson likes to use to describe the Stealthâ€™s approach to this season is â€œhungry.â€
â€œI think weâ€™re hungry,â€ he said. â€œWe brought in a lot of new guys and we were missing that edge last year. Weâ€™re hungry and excited to compete. Itâ€™s a clean slate and weâ€™re expecting to get back to that winning pedigree that weâ€™re used to having.â€
That said, Hodgson realizes that winning consistently in the NLL is no easy feat: â€œWe know that Edmonton, Calgary, Coloradoâ€¦ everybody in the NLL is going to be good and weâ€™re ready to embrace that challenge and show we can compete and be there.â€
The centrepiece of the Stealthâ€™s offence is Duch, who led the team with 80 points in 2014 and is the teamâ€™s all-time regular season leader in assists, 296, and is on pace to become the Stealthâ€™s franchise leader in goals and points.
He also won an NLL Championâ€™s Cup with the team in 2010.
â€œItâ€™s an honour not only to be recognized as a leader but to be displayed as one,â€ Duch said. â€œItâ€™s a good feeling but it comes with responsibility but itâ€™s a responsibility Iâ€™m ready for.â€
This is Duchâ€™s third year wearing the â€œA.â€
Heâ€™s been with the Stealth since being drafted by the team third overall in the 2008 NLL Entry Draft.
â€œI think itâ€™ll be a bit of a transition period because we have a lot of new faces,â€ Duch said. â€œBeing one of the captains, itâ€™ll be part of my responsibility to facilitate those new guys and transition them into their roles and help make us successful.â€
It was announced in October that last seasonâ€™s captain, Kyle Sorenson, would miss the 2015 season after undergoing knee surgery.
Stealth head coach Dan Perreault said it was important make a decision on the captaincy based on who would be a leader both on and off the floor.
â€œWe were in no hurry to make our decision once camp started,â€ he said. â€œWe wanted to see how things unfolded in camp. With those three guys, you saw it during camp â€“ they were our leaders.â€
Among those leaders is Hodgson, who is entering his 10th NLL season, all with the Stealth.
He holds the franchise record for most regular season games played with 161.
Hodgson is also tied for the most playoff games played in a Stealth uniform with 11. He won a title with the Stealth during the teamâ€™s 2010 Championâ€™s Cup run.
â€œKyleâ€™s one of my good friends,â€ Hodgson said, of last yearâ€™s captain who is on the shelf this season. â€œHim and I have gone back and forth and talked about roles and responsibilities. Iâ€™ve been an older guy for the last few years and Iâ€™ve taken on that mentorship role that worked for me when I was a younger player, in terms of how to learn the game and what it takes to win and thatâ€™s something Iâ€™ll try and bring this season.â€
Smith, entering his fifth NLL season, will don the â€œAâ€ for the first time in his NLL career; something he says heâ€™s looking forward to.
â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s necessarily any added pressure,â€ he said. â€œRegardless if youâ€™re a rookie or a veteran, thereâ€™s always going to be high expectations after last season. Itâ€™s more exciting than it is nerve-wracking.â€
Following Saturdayâ€™s game, the Stealthâ€™s home opener is the following week when they host the Toronto Rock on Saturday, Jan. 10. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre.
Hodgson hopes to see more seats filled at Stealth home games this season.
â€œOur schedule is a lot more conducive; we have more games on Saturday in our schedule,â€ he said, adding, â€œthe lacrosse community wants to see a winning product on the floor. Thatâ€™s part of getting people in the stands. We want to send a message to people that this organization wants to win now.â€
For details on future home games, visit the Stealthâ€™s website by clicking here.