Vancouver Stealth’s Mitch McMichael (black jersey, front) is back for another season after making the final roster cut. Langley’s Kyle Belton (white jersey) was not as fortunate, failing to land one of the 24 roster spots. Ryan Wagner (back) was placed on the team’s practice roster.

Vancouver Stealth’s Mitch McMichael (black jersey, front) is back for another season after making the final roster cut. Langley’s Kyle Belton (white jersey) was not as fortunate, failing to land one of the 24 roster spots. Ryan Wagner (back) was placed on the team’s practice roster.

Roster set, Stealth ready for take-off

Vancouver Stealth 2016 line-up with feature two Langley lacrosse player

A pair of local players — one who was a lock and the other somewhat of a surprise — have cracked the season-opening line-up for the 2016 edition of the Vancouver Stealth.

Garrett Billings — born and raised in Langley — was acquired in the off-season trade by the Stealth, who brought home the first player in National Lacrosse League history to post three straight 100-point seasons.

But the surprise comes in the form of Chris Levis, who landed the back-up goalie position.

Levis owns and operates Levy’s Source for Sports in Langley but has been out of the league since 2013. This will be his 13th NLL season.

The Stealth released their final 24-player roster — 20 on the active roster and another four on the practice roster — on Thursday morning, ahead of the NLL deadline today (Friday).

The roster features 16 players who were on last year’s squad. That team went 5-13 and missed the post-season by one game.

Vancouver brought in close to 40 players for training camp.

“We were in no different position than anyone else,” said Stealth general manager Doug Locker.

“Every team had some pretty tough decisions.

“It’s a difficult process every season but this year seemed especially hard with the strong group of free agents we signed in the off-season.

“We had to release some very good lacrosse players, but that process is now complete and we are extremely happy with the guys who we selected.”

“Our staff did a tremendous job balancing the overall roster to add depth and versatility at every position,” he added.

The biggest changes to the team come in the Stealth’s own zone.

Free agent Travis Cornwall joins returnees Brandon Clelland, Tyler Garrison, Mitch McMichael and Justin Salt as transition players.

McMichael was the team’s primary face-off man while Garrison is fully healthy after missing more than half of  2015.

On defence, Matt Beers returns to Vancouver after a year off, while the team signed Ian Hawksbee, Jeff Moleski and Brier Jonathan in free agency.

They join returnees captain Curtis Hodgson and Chris O’Dougherty.

“Those guys right away add some punch for us,” Locker said.

“I felt like last year we had a lot of transition oriented players and because of injuries, we just ran out of defensive guys, straight up checkers.

“I never want to be in that spot again.”

Six of the 11 are strong checkers, while the other five will concentrate on transition.

“I think the balance is really strong out of the back end. Once we decided who the core defenders were, it was balancing off the pieces to make sure we had that mix that we think will be successful,” Locker said.

In goal, Levis will back-up Eric Penney, who has had a great 12 months, the GM said.

A rookie last year, Penney got into five games last year after Tyler Richards — the all-time Stealth goaltending leader — had to miss time because of injury. Richards wound up retiring because of concussion issues in the off-season.

“We have always been excited about Eric and have had confidence in him,” Locker said about his clear-cut No. 1 goalie in 2016.

Penney filled in admirably in 2015 and continued into the summer, winning the top goaltender award in the Western Lacrosse Association with New Westminster.

Up front, the Stealth added Billings on the right-side while the team’s top draft pick, second round selection Jordan Durston cracked the line-up on the left-side.

“I think anytime a rookie breaks into the league, it is a surprise. He had to come in and demonstrate that he could play at this level, and he did,” Locker said.

“We think he brings a ton in terms of what we need in order to complement the rest of the offensive group.”

They join the Stealth’s all-time leading scorer Rhys Duch and 2014 NLL rookie of the year Logan Schuss as the core of the attack.

Duch led the team with 41 goals and 103 points last season, while Corey Small (32 goals) and Joel McCready (30 goals) also cracked the 30-goal plateau. Rounding out the forward group is versatile forward Cliff Smith.

Vancouver begins the season with two players on the injured reserve list with transition player Tyler Hass and defender Rory Smith.

Neither are eligible to return to the active roster until February.

And Keegan Bal (forward), Cody Hagedorn (goalie), Jarrett Toll (transition) and Ryan Wagner (defence) were named to the Stealth’s practice roster.

Locker was particularly excited about Wagner, a fifth-round draft pick in 2015.

“It is not that common that a fifth round pick makes it onto the roster. Ryan was exceptional at camp and has a real strong upside moving into the coming years,” he said.

While the rest of the NLL gets underway next weekend, Vancouver will have to wait an extra week as they host the New England Black Wolves at the Langley Events Centre on Jan. 9 in their season opener.

 

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