Coach hopes his return will boost struggling Stealth
Perhaps there is no better man to give it them than one who has been away from the National Lacrosse League team fighting for his own life.
Chris Hall makes his return to the sidelines tonight when the Stealth play host to the Minnesota Swarm at 7:45 p.m. at Comcast Arena. Hall has missed the first six games of the season recovering from treatment for throat cancer. In Hall's absence, the Stealth stumbled out of the gates to a 1-5 start.
"Hopefully I can bring some inspiration, some motivation," Hall said.
Hall was also quick to point out that the Stealth's start was in no way the fault of the coaching staff that handled things while he was away.
"It's not as if our coaching staff hasn't done everything in their power to do those things," he said.
Maybe it was just breaking the routine that Stealth players were used to was enough to bring on the struggles.
"They are used to hearing from me," Hall said. "They are used to hearing me barking at them on occasion. They haven't heard that for a while now."
Whatever the reason for the losing, it doesn't sit well with Hall, whose competitive spirit runs deep.
"I'm used to winning," Hall said. "The players know I'm used to winning and that losing is a very poor option."
The Stealth have had their share of adversity early on this season. They haven't had the success they have been accustomed to having the last two years on the offensive end. At times, their transition defense has been very poor leading to quick scoring opportunities for their opponent. Putting all the elements that a team needs to win in one game has been a problem.
On top of that, injuries haven't helped the Stealth's cause. Forward Jeff Zywicki was placed on Injured Reserve earlier in the season, meaning he must miss at least six weeks. Defenseman Kyle Sorensen, who many close to the team credit as being the heart of the defensive unit, has missed time recently as well.
Despite all the problems the Stealth have had, Hall said it's no excuse. Just last weekend, Washington faced a Rochester team that was short five players due to suspension. Still, the Knighthawks scored the final five goals of the game to send the Stealth to their fifth defeat.
"We only need to look to last week's opponent to see what can be done when you set your mind to it," Hall said.
Being away from the team and watching them struggle was hard on Hall.
"It's really frustrating," Hall said. "You kind of want to reach into the television or reach into the computer and be there. You have a sense that you might be able to help in some situations, but you aren't there."
Hall finally feels well enough to be there. He said mentally he is very sharp and physically he is feeling much better, though he added he is probably only about 70 percent. Doctors have told Hall he probably won't feel completely back to normal for another seven to eight months.
Stealth general manager Doug Locker said the entire organization is happy to have Hall back.
"It's going to be an emotional night for us to see Chris back on the bench Friday night," Locker said. "He has been through so much over the last 10 weeks, and our entire organization is excited to see this day finally arrive. At the onset we knew he would battle this and he certainly has shown the character and perseverance that we admire so much about him."
Coaching in any sport is certainly demanding and Hall said he has been working for several weeks now to be physically ready to return.
"It will be a good test of where I think I am," Hall said.
The first challenge for Hall is attempting to fix the problems that have plagued the Stealth so far this season.
"I think we have to review what it is that has been going wrong," Hall said. "It's been different things sort of every single game."
Hall said the first step is to identify and the second step is to fix the problem.
Zywicki's injury and subsequent offensive struggles led the team to sign former All-Star Brett Bucktooth and trade for Athan Iannucci, who happens to hold the league's single-season record for goals in a season.
Iannucci made his debut last week with the new look offense, but an injury to Rhys Duch in the second half made it difficult to see what all the players could do together. Nevertheless, the dream scenario is having a healthy Lewis Ratcliff, Duch, Bucktooth, Zywicki and Iannucci on the floor at the same time.
In a league where eight of the nine teams make the playoffs, no matter what record the Stealth finish the regular season with, that team would be one no one would want to face in the postseason.
"Wouldn't that be nice," Hall said. "Oh my goodness, I wish. Then we wouldn't have too many excuses. To be honest, I hope that happens and it happens sooner than later."
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Read his live blogs at www.heraldnet.com/blog34, follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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