The Washington Stealth had just finished with the worst record in the nine-team National Lacrosse League and it was Locker’s responsibility to fix things.
“It was an enormous task,” said Locker, the team’s general manager.
But he, along with head coach Chris Hall, pulled it off. Despite not having a first-round pick in the 2012 NLL entry draft, they revamped the Stealth’s roster, bringing in several rookies to replace seasoned veterans. The moves resulted in a 9-7 regular season that saw the Stealth finish in a three-way tie for first place in the West Division.
For his efforts, the NLL on Tuesday named Locker its 2013 General Manager of the Year. He finished ahead of runner-up Derek Keenan of Edmonton in a vote of the league’s board of governors and GMs.
“It was pretty surprising,” Locker said of the honor. “It’s been such a close league, there are probably many guys who are worthy of the award.”
Locker credited ownership, a dedicated coaching staff and a group of players who “perform week in and week out” for earning him the first GM-of-year award of his career.
“GMs are dependent on everyone else to make them look good,” said Locker, who is in his fourth season as the Stealth’s general manager.
After last year’s disappointing 4-12 record, Locker and Hall decided major changes were necessary. The Stealth needed to get younger, which meant parting company with several big-name veterans, including forward Jeff Zywicki and defenseman Eric Martin.
“Those were very tough, emotional decisions,” Locker said.
The goal, he said, was to add some youthful energy to a stable of talented veterans. The tricky part was finding just the right balance of exuberance and experience.
Last weekend’s 12-11 victory over the Edmonton Rush in the West Division semifinals would seem to indicate Locker succeeded in finding the proper mix, but he’s quick to deflect the praise.
“Credit (goes) not only to our young players who all stepped up,” he said, “but also to the veterans who supported the changes that were made.”
The winning mixture, while successful, is tenuous, Locker said, as evidenced by a couple stumbles the Stealth experienced during the regular season.
“You take one or two of the veterans out of the mix or one or two of the rookies out of the mix and it’s just not right,” he said. “And we’ve seen that over the course of the year.”
But when the recipe works, it brings a smile to face of the 2013 GM of the year.
“It’s really gratifying when you see one of our young guys (Tyler Garrison) step up and score two massive goals in a do-or-die game,” Locker said of Garrison’s performance last weekend against the Rush. “That’s when you really feel good about a player.”
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