When the Washington Stealth and Toronto Rock scheduled a preseason game at the Langley Events Centre (LEC) this offseason, it was obviously called an exhibition. There were many times throughout the contest that fans at the sold out LEC could tell that these were two teams that were not in midseason form. However, despite the occasional errant pass and the far-to-frequent penalties, this exhibition game between the Stealth and Rock featured the intensity and flair for the dramatic that NLL fans have come to expect from this budding cross-continental rivalry.
The Stealth and Rock have faced each other in each of the last two NLL Championship Games, each winning once. The energy at the LEC was electric from the moment the doors opened prior to the 7pm PST face-off. The NLL was back in British Columbia for a night, seven years after the Vancouver Ravens left town. Even NLL Commissioner George Daniel felt the energy in the air, tweeting during the event, “Great night for the NLL in BC. Thank you Langley Events Centre.”
The end result was a 14-13 overtime victory for the Stealth, thanks to a game-tying goal by Rhys Duch with just over 30 seconds remaining in regulation and a Lewis Ratcliff tally 31 seconds into the overtime period.
The game opened at a frantic pace as the Stealth jumped out to a 3-1 lead midway through the first quarter. Three unanswered goals by the Rock to end the quarter gave the defending champs a 4-3 lead after fifteen minutes of play.
The Stealth, who opened their training camp with a practice less than 12 hours earlier were not at the top of their game, but that was expected by Head Coach Chris Hall.
“We were a bit sloppy at times, but that’s to be expected on the first day of training camp,” he said during the game. “It’s a good barometer to gauge where the veterans are at early on and a bit of a baptism by fire for the rookies.”
The veterans handled the scoring for the Stealth as nine different players scored in the contest. Duch scored twice in the first half as the two teams traded goals throughout the second quarter and Toronto went into the locker room with an 8-7 lead.
Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards started the game and made 21 saves in 30 minutes of action.
“There were some balls I should have stopped,” said Richards following the game. “The new pace with the new rules surprised us. Overall, not unhappy, it was the first camp of the season and I think we learned some things about our team. Playing in a game like this so early reminds of the kind of pace with which we need to play.”
The third quarter was a penalty-ridden 15 minutes of play as six penalties were called, four of which came against the Stealth. The Rock outscored the Stealth 3-1 in the frame, all of their goals scored on the power play.
At the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Rock scored an empty net goal to take a 12-9 lead following a Stealth turnover with rookie goaltender Chris Seidel pulled for an extra attacker. The Stealth responded in a big way however, as Paul Rabil, Craig Conn and newcomer Jamie Rooney each scored goals in a two minute span to tie the game at twelve with just over three minutes left in regulation.
The Rock regained the lead with another power play goal, this time from Garrett Billings with a minute left in regulation. But less than 30 seconds later, Duch, who earned the moniker “Clutch Duch” last season due to his knack to find a goal late in games, rifled a shot that squeaked past former teammate and current Rock goaltender Matt Roik to send the game into overtime tied at thirteen.
The Stealth’s spectacular face-off man, Bob Snider, who also scored a goal in the game, won the opening face-off in overtime and 31 seconds into the extra frame, Ratcliff notched his second of the night to send the Stealth home with a win.
“I was aiming for a zone and hit it,” said Ratcliff of the game winning shot that beat his former teammate, Roik. “(Roik and I) know each other well and he was making saves on me early on. Fortunately (the last shot) went where I wanted it to go and I’m just glad it went in.”
Duch led the Stealth with a hat trick, while Ratcliff and Rabil each scored a pair. Seidel entered the game in the second half, and the rookie goaltender was stellar, sparking the Stealth comeback with 24 saves in just over 30 minutes of action.
“Seidel came up huge for us late in the game,” said Richards of his fellow goaltender. “It’s not easy to come in for the second half, but he made some big saves in shorthanded situations and the team rallied behind him.”
The Rock was led by Colin Doyle, who tallied a hat trick of his own. Blaine Manning, Stephan Leblanc and Dan Carey each scored twice in the loss.
The Stealth continues training camp with another practice at the Langley Events Centre tomorrow morning. They will then head back to the friendly confines of the Comcast Arena at Everett for training camp next weekend, which features a scrimmage with Western Division rival Colorado Mammoth.
The 2012 regular season begins on January 14 for the Stealth, when the team plays host to the Calgary Roughnecks in a rematch of the 2011 Western Division Final. Tickets for the 2012 season are on sale now and available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.