The Washington Stealth earned its first win of 2012 tonight, needing overtime to get past the Buffalo Bandits in front of over 14,000 fans at the First Niagara Center. The Stealth got great performances by numerous players, including All-Pro forward Rhys Duch whose fourth goal of the night gave the Stealth an 11-10 win in overtime.
The Stealth, which had led the National Lacrosse League in goals scored in each of the last two seasons, entered tonight’s game averaging a league-low eight goals per game. The leading scorers for the Stealth, Duch and fellow All-Pro forward Lewis Ratcliff, had combined for just 21 points in the first three games. The duo bucked that trend against the Bandits as Duch finished with a game-high eight points (4g, 4a) and Ratcliff tallied six points (3g, 3a) of his own.
“Our best players need to come out and be our best players,” said Stealth Assistant Coach Art Webster after the game. “We made some adjustments offensively and Rhys and Lewis really stepped up and answered the bell.”
Both Duch and Ratcliff got on the board in the early stages of the game. Duch tied the score at one five minutes into the game. The early goal was an indication the fourth-year forward was primed for a strong outing.
“Personally, it always helps to get settled in with an early goal,” said Duch. “But it also helps the team. The offense didn’t struggle early on like we have earlier in the season. We finally started making the right adjustments on the floor that we’ve been talking about in practice for weeks.”
Ratcliff felt the benefits of a fast start as well adding, “it felt good in warm-ups. We got some good looks in the early going and its great for the confidence when shots start falling.”
The Stealth offense got some scoring from its secondary options as well, including a pair of goals by former Bandit Brett Bucktooth, who was playing in his second game after being signed by the Stealth earlier this season. Bucktooth’s second of the night came late in the third quarter, breaking an 8-8 tie with less than two minutes left to play in the period. Paul Rabil and Cam Sedgwick tallied a goal and two assists apiece.
“It was a team effort for 60 minutes,” said Webster. “Our secondary scorers worked extremely hard to get some open looks and capitalized. When we get support from those guys, we are tough to beat.”
The other side of the ball was equally impressive, as goaltender Tyler Richards and the Stealth defense held a potent Buffalo offense to just ten goals in over 60 minutes of play. Richards made 41 saves in the game, including 14 in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.
“Our defense hasn’t been the problem this season,” said Duch. “They are the only reason we have been in games so far and finally the offense was able to repay them by playing at the same level.”
The Stealth held a 9-8 advantage going into the fourth quarter, but just over a minute into the frame, former Stealth forward Luke Wiles notched his fourth goal of the night to tie it up at nine. Duch scored the go-ahead goal just nine seconds later. With 7:17 left in regulation, Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis knotted the score again at ten. It was the final goal of regulation as Richards and his counterpart for Buffalo, Mike Thompson, shut the door on all scoring chances that followed.
The Bandits won the opening face-off in overtime, one of only nine times they were able to beat Stealth face-off man Bobby Snider on the draw in the game. Snider finished 16-for-25 in the game.
After the Bandits were unable to score on their first possession, Duch received the ball as both teams were making substitutions. Taking advantage of the unsettled situation, Duch drove to the net and went just inside the far post to end the game just 1:30 into the overtime period.
“Rhys has a knack for the big goal,” said Ratcliff of his teammate, who was pegged with the moniker “Clutch Duch” last season after recording five game-winning goals.
“As soon as he caught it, I was hoping he would score. We battled hard all game and we were tired,” Ratcliff added with a laugh.
The Stealth power play unit, which scored on just 25% of its chances coming into the game, went 2-for-3 on the night.
The Bandits were led by Wiles, who had four goals and an assist against his former team, and John Tavares, who finished with two goals and three assists. Goaltender Mike Thompson made 41 saves in the loss.
For the Stealth, the win snaps a three-game losing streak, the longest such streak to start the season in team history. According to the Stealth coaching staff, it was a result of the team’s hard work the entire game.
“We need to battle like that every night,” said Webster. “It’s going to take 60 minutes of hard work and team play night in and night out to get wins in this league.”
The Stealth players are happy to get one in the win column as well.
“It gets a monkey off our back for sure,” said Duch. “Mentally it does wonders for us, knowing that we’ve got what it takes to battle like that and it gives us some momentum to build on as we get back into division play next week.”
The Stealth will return home next week to take on Western Division rival Calgary Roughnecks on Friday, February 10. The Roughnecks won the first meeting between the teams this season, 13-10 to open the Stealth’s 2012 schedule.
That game is scheduled to begin at 7:45pm at the Comcast Areana at Everett. Tickets start at just $7 and are on sale now by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.