Roster overhaul, new bench boss all part of the plan to bounce back as champion
They’ll be serving prawns, pints and prime rib dinner inside Samz Neighbourhood Pub tonight.
And for dessert the viewing party in Surrey hopes to taste a sweet Vancouver Stealth victory as the National Lacrosse League season opens in Calgary with the rival Roughnecks on tap. The party at 19580 56th Avenue starts rolling at 5 p.m., one hour before new head coach Dan Perreault and his overhauled Stealth appear on TSN at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Coming off a 4-14 season labelled “embarrassing” by assistant captain Rhys Duch, “weird” by transition standout Tyler Garrison and “totally unacceptable” by team owner Denise Watkins, Perreault understands the added pressure to get off to a strong start in the nine-team pro league. “I’m pretty confident we addressed our weaknesses from last season,” said Perreault, an assistant bench boss for the past two seasons under 64-year-old NLL Hall of Fame coach Chris Hall, who died last month following a four-year battle with cancer. “A lot of things went sideways last year and for whatever reason we couldn’t turn it around. We lost five games by one goal, blew a couple leads in a few other games and just didn’t get the bounces you need in a league where all the teams are so even,” said Perreault. This year’s team, which the coach expects to be faster, bigger, meaner and hungrier, has eight new faces in the starting lineup. The key acquisitions — star forwards Johnny Powless and Joel McCready, and punishing defencemen Tyler Hass and Rory Smith, the latter described by GM Doug Locker as the “big piece of nasty we were missing last year” — have given the team depth, added scoring punch and a physical presence. “I’m not sure what our identity will be yet, but I know the returning guys are determined to not have a repeat of last year,” said Perreault. “We have great character guys and they will be fully prepared to compete (tonight). The chemistry and identity may take a few weeks to come together.” When Locker heard the pre-season prediction reports that indicated his Stealth were underdogs heading into this campaign — their second playing at the Langley Events Centre — he flashed an ear-to-ear grin. “Perfect. If nobody respects us or expects much out of us, even after all the quality off-season improvements, that will make it much sweeter when we start rolling,” said Locker. Duch, who believes the Roughnecks could contend for the Champions Cup this season, said it’s show time tonight for the Stealth players who figured last year’s flop was an anomaly. “We’re going to stay positive and we’re going to contend this year. I believe we will be the last guys standing when this season ends,” said Duch.