The National Lacrosse League's 2013 season gets underway on Jan. 5 when the Washington Stealth host the Rochester Knighthawks.
The Stealth were the lone team in the NLL to miss the 2012 playoffs. Meanwhile, the Knighthawks went all the way and won the Champion's Cup, so the season opener is a worst-versus-first from 2012 scenario.
Head coach Chris Hall's Washington squad is looking for redemption after a very disappointing season. The Stealth went all the way to the finals two years in a row, winning once, before last season's collapse.
Having Hall on the sidelines early on in the campaign while he battled cancer was a contributing factor to their slow start, but he'll be behind the bench all year this year, and that should help their fortunes.
Washington's offense is powered by the trio of Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci. All three of them are capable of taking over a game, making defending them a challenge.
The Stealth's defense has a couple solid veterans in Kyle Sorensen, Jeff Moleski and Matt Beers while rookies Justin Pychel and Tyler Garrison will try to make an impact.
Transition Bob Snider will take the faceoffs and will undoubtedly dominate in that role. Last year he set the NLL single-season record for most faceoff wins with 319.
Tyler Richards had a so-so year between the pipes for Washington, but if the defense can keep the shots down, he should be fine.
Rochester, meanwhile, is riding high on their outstanding playoff run.
After an up-and-down regular season, goaltender Matt Vinc was excellent in the playoffs and a huge part of their Champion's Cup win. It would not be at all surprising to see him return to his former All-Star form and dominate games.
Defensive leaders Brad Self and Pat McCready are joined this year by Paul Dawson, who came over from the Philadelphia Wings in a multi-player deal in early December. Dawson brings size and intensity to the squad and should help seal passing and shooting lanes.
The offense will have a different look from last year. Dan Dawson, Paul's brother, also came over in the Philly deal and adds a top-five offensive stick to the mix. Casey Powell has also signed on after a full year off, is a former league MVP and is fully capable of taking over games.
Dawson and Powell add big firepower to an offense that already includes standout scorer Cody Jamieson, who led the Knighthawks in scoring last year, along with strong shooters Mike Accursi, Stephen Keogh, and Johnny Powless.
The X-factor for Rochester is history.
Dan Dawson and Powell were part of an offensive trio with Josh Sanderson a couple seasons ago for the Boston Blazers that should have been the most devastating force in league history—they were the top three point-getters in the league the previous year before being united in Boston.
But the expected fireworks simply did not transpire.
If the same thing happens this year, Rochester's offensive chemistry might fizzle and put the team's plans for 2013 in jeopardy.
I'm betting that doesn't happen, however. Dangerous Dan has a couple more years of experience under his belt, and adding talents like Jamieson, Accursi, Keogh and Powless into the mix gives them too many weapons not to succeed.
Washington, on the other hand, will be coming out with something to prove and will bring the energy and focus in front of their home crowd. They will not roll over and die under Rochester's pressure.
I'm expecting a tight but high-scoring game, but I'm predicting the Knighthawks will squeak it out, 14-13.
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