by Steve Ewen
Special to the Langley Advance
The Vancouver Stealth will likely have the youngest starting goalie in the National Lacrosse League this coming season, and the oldest backup.
The Stealth open their third campaign with the Langley Events Centre as a home base on Jan. 9, when the New England Black Wolves come to town to kick off 2016 league play.
On Thursday, the Stealth were one of the first clubs in the nine-team loop to name their opening day roster.
Second-year netminder Eric Penney, 22, takes over the No. 1 job from the departed Tyler Richards, who retired at the close of the campaign due to concussion troubles. The No. 2 spot now goes to newcomer Chris Levis, 39, an 11-year NLL veteran who hadn’t suited up in the league since 2013.
He’s a Langley guy. He lives two blocks from the LEC, he owns the Levy’s Source for Sports in town.
He was mentored by celebrated goalies like Dwight Maetche and Bill Gerrie coming through the ranks. He wants to help Penney in a similar fashion.
“If you guys don’t see me play a single minute this season, I’ll know that I’ve done my job,” said Levis.
The Stealth missed the playoffs last season, with a 5-13 mark, and a major part of the reason was their inability to check.
Vancouver gave up 57 shots per game, five more than their closest rival in that category and 14 more than the loop’s stingiest team, the Edmonton Rush.
Not surprisingly, the Stealth rebuilt their back end in the off-season.
Four defender types who played at least eight games with the team last year were released in the past couple of weeks, including veteran Ilija Gajic.
Two more, Rory Smith (upper body injury) and Tyler Hass (lower body), will begin the campaign on the injured list.Matt Beers, who took last season off due to work commitments, returns to the Stealth this season, as does fellow defender Jeff Moleski, who had jumped to the Calgary Roughnecks for a year as a free agent. Another veteran checker, Ian Hawksbee, joins as a free agent signee after playing with the Colorado Mammoth.
Penney was picked the outstanding netminder in the Western Lacrosse Association this past summer, as well as sharing the loop’s rookie-of-the-year award, after leading the league in wins (8) and save percentage (.829) and finishing third in goals against average (8.17) in the regular season for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
He had his struggles in the league championship, as the Victoria Shamrocks swept the Salmonbellies in the best-of-seven set and Penney went the distance in just one of the four games.
– Steve Ewen is a reporter with the Vancouver Province