The Washington Stealth offense has been waiting for a night like this all season long. Five players recorded at least five points as the Stealth evens its record at 2-2 with a 19-14 win over the Calgary Roughnecks (2-2) at the Scotiabank Saddledome Saturday night.
Maybe it was last weekend’s 16-8 drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Swarm that lit a fire under the Stealth coming into this weekend’s game. Perhaps it was exacting revenge for the 13-11 loss to the Roughnecks at the Comcast Arena on January 9. Or it could have been the brawl in the opening seconds of tonight’s contest that helped the Stealth return to the form its fans saw throughout the 2010 season.
“Even though it’s early in the season, our backs were kind of against the wall,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall following the Stealth’s win. “We were way more focused and brought way more intensity tonight and it was fueled even more by the physicality of the game early on.”
The Stealth offense was held to just 10 goals per game through the first three games as it relied heavily on All-Pro forwards Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff. That pair continued their production, with eight points apiece, but it was the play of the rest of the offense that led the Stealth to victory tonight.
The Stealth started the scoring at the 2:28 mark of the first quarter on a goal by Craig Conn, who was playing in his second game of the season after being brought in to replace an injured Jeff Zywicki. Conn answered the call tonight to the tune of four goals and an assist, including a pair of first quarter goals.
“It can be easy to score when the ball is moving so well and you’re surrounded by so many great players,” said Conn, who played last season in Calgary. “Some nights the shots are falling, some nights they aren’t; tonight I was fortunate to be able to find the net.”
While Conn had a huge night with some timely goals, it was the overall play of forward Luke Wiles that stole the show. Wiles also scored a pair of first quarter goals as the Stealth took a 6-4 lead after the first stanza, but it was his fourth goal of the night just 36 seconds into the fourth quarter that gave the Stealth a 12-9 lead from which the Roughnecks could not recover.
Wiles finished the night with a game-high ten points (5g, 5a), nearly tripling his 2011 season total.
“We were doing all the little things that weren’t happening in the first three games this season,” said Wiles, whose performance earned him game MVP honors. “We moved the ball well, cut through the middle and came off the bench very well. This was a huge character win for us.”
The Stealth received some timely saves from goaltender Tyler Richards, who saw his first game action tonight after suffering an injury during training camp. He made 19 saves in the first half and 39 in the game.
“Tyler made some great saves early on to help us build the lead,” said Hall, his Stealth never trailing in the game. “[Calgary] had a number of two-on-ones and point blank shots that he turned away and they really could have swung the momentum in [the Roughnecks’] direction.”
Duch gets credit for the game-winning goal, the second of back-to-back goals for the Victoria native giving the Stealth a 15-12 lead with eight minutes left in the game. He finished with four goals and four assists.
Ratcliff recorded two goals and six assists, giving him 15 points against his former team in two games this season. Cam Sedgwick finished with a pair of goals and four assists and Paul Rabil was credited with four assists and a team-high 12 loose balls.
Jamison Koesterer had his second straight dominating performance at the face-off circle, winning 20 of 37 draws in the game. He has won a league-best 70 face-offs this season, winning over 59% of the draws he takes.
The Roughnecks were led by Scott Ranger with four goals and two assists. Jeff Shattler added a hat trick and an assist, while Dane Dobbie tallied a goal and five assists. Geoff Snider was credited with a game-high 13 loose balls and goaltender Mike Poulin made 43 saves in the loss.
The Stealth will be on the road for its next contest, traveling to Minnesota to take on the Swarm team that handed the Stealth a 16-8 loss at the Comcast Arena last weekend. That game will take place at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, January 29 at 5:30pm PST. That game can be seen live on the NLL Network at NLL.com.