PRO LACROSSE: Surrey player’s versatility a plus for Stealth as team opens season

Cliff Smith re-signed with the Langley-based NLL team in off-season

Surrey's Cliff Smith in action with the Vancouver Stealth of the National Lacrosse League (NLL).

Surrey's Cliff Smith in action with the Vancouver Stealth of the National Lacrosse League (NLL).

Surrey’s Cliff Smith is aiming to add his versatility and veteran presence to the Vancouver Stealth this season.

Smith, 30, re-signed with the Langley-based National Lacrosse League (NLL) squad in the off-season.

“I’m a depth offensive guy, not a pure goal-scorer or anything, but I think I can help this team in a lot of ways,” Smith told the Now prior to a practice session Sunday morning (Jan. 3) at the team’s field house, adjacent to Langley Events Centre.

The 5,276-seat arena will play host to the Stealth season-opener this Saturday night (Jan. 9) against New England Black Wolves. Game time is 7 p.m.

Last season with the Stealth, Smith scored eight goals and 17 assists, and also netted 31 loose balls. He has tallied 165 points in 89 games during his six-year NLL career.

Doug Locker, team president and GM, has good things to say about the Surrey native, who’ll turn 31 on Jan. 30.

“Cliff contributes in so many ways for us, and is willing to do whatever is needed to help us win,” Locker stated in September.

“His versatility at both ends of the floor is a tremendous plus.”

Smith, a six-foot-three forward, has been with the team since 2014 following time spent in Washington and Colorado, the team that drafted him fourth-overall in 2009.

In his time away from lacrosse, the QE Secondary grad and current North Surrey resident is self-employed in the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) business.

(STORY CONTINUES BELOW STEALTH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)

The coming NLL season will be Smith’s first as a father, meaning he’ll have to juggle time even more efficiently for the team’s road trips to places like Saskatchewan, Toronto, Georgia, Rochester and Colorado.

“It’s a weekend league, so we typically fly out on a Friday or Thursday for the road games,” Smith explained.

The Stealth will conclude its 18-game 2016 regular season on the weekend of April 29-30 with back-to-back battles in Colorado and Georgia.

The team is hoping for a return to the NLL playoffs this season, after missing out as West Division cellar-dwellers in 2015.

Based on the body of work of at least three of their forwards, the Stealth should have no trouble filling opposing goals this year.

The team will be led by major off-season acquisition Garrett Billings, a Langley native, along with Rhys Duch, the franchise’s all-time goals, assists and points leader, and Logan Schuss, the 2014 National Lacrosse League (NLL) Rookie of the Year.

Locker said the team’s staff did a tremendous job balancing the overall roster to add depth and versatility at every position.

“We really like the makeup of this group and it reflects the very competitive camp that we have had thus far,” Locker said late last month.

In total, 16 players are returning from a season ago. They include captain Curtis Hodgson, 30-plus goal scorers Corey Small and Joel McCready, and goaltender Eric Penney.

Jordan Durston, the team’s 2015 second-round pick, was the lone player to make the active roster from this year’s draft class.

For Locker and the rest of the Stealth staff, paring the roster to 24 players out of training camp was a challenging task.

“Every team in the league is in the same situation when it comes to making tough choices, and we were no different,” he noted. “It’s a difficult process every season, but this year seemed especially hard with the strong group of free agents we signed in the off season. We had to release some very good lacrosse players, but that process is now complete, and we are extremely happy with the guys who we selected.”

With the Stealth this season, both pre-game and post-game festivities will take place in the LEC Banquet Hall.

For more information about the team, including tickets, visit Stealthlax.com.

with files from Langley Advance

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com