EDMONTON, Alberta — Picking up a vital home win over Colorado last weekend, the Washington Stealth carry its mid-season momentum to Edmonton, Alberta for the season rubber match with the Rush in a game that could define the NLL West race to the post season.
In Friday’s 6 p.m. PST contest at Rexall Place, the 4-3 Stealth look to take the season series with the 2012 West Division representative in the NLL title game, after splitting their first two meetings last month.
For Stealth Coach Chris Hall, the 1-4 Rush despite their record, pose another test for Washington in the mid-section of the season. The game is webcast live on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network and available atwww.StealthLAX.com.
“The key for us is recognizing that there is a lot on the line this weekend in terms of tie breakers and playoff positioning,” said Hall, who will be facing a Rush squad that is coming off back-to-back losses to West-leading Calgary. “(Edmonton has) just come off two great games,” said Hall. “It’s about recognizing how good they are and respecting that.”
Breaking down Friday’s contest, it’s defense and goaltending – holding opponents to just 13 goals in the past two games, that are opening doors for the Stealth’s big offensive guns.
The defense is led by team captain Kyle Sorensen whose career-best seven forced turnovers against the Mammoth last weekend put him atop the NLL with 16, while hard-hitting play by rookie Tyler Garrison and veteran Matt Beers are forcing opponents into more predictable schemes.
Performances that directly put Washington in position to win games.
But it’s Tyler Richards, last week’s NLL Defensive Player of the Week, who has risen to head of the class of NLL goaltenders with a league-best 10.01 goals against average, that continues to make the difference.
“We couldn’t ask for anymore out of (Richards) holding Colorado to six goals and Rochester to seven the last two weeks,” said Hall. “He’s been absolutely solid and been a big part of our success.”
On offense, the Stealth are looking to a transition game that is running fast with the performance of NLL Rookie of the Week Mitch McMichael along with the steady threat brought by Cliff Smith and Dean Hill that is creating additional opportunity for Stealth forwards Duch, Iannucci and Ratcliff.
In two games against the Rush this season, Duch delivered five goals including his third hat trick of the season in the Stealth’s Jan. 20 home matchup. With his three-goal performance last Saturday against the Mammoth, the Victoria, British Columbia native is in the NLL’s top spot among goal scorers with 18 on the season.
“We put a better team game together (on Saturday). The defense has been outstanding. But the offense has picked it up in the last week,” said Ratcliff.
While Ratcliff and Iannucci were held to just a goal apiece last weekend they were both key pieces to the Stealth offense with Iannucci finishing with five assists for six points and Ratcliff with four assists for five points.
After the first seven games of the season, the Stealth offense ranks fourth in goals per game, delivering an average of just over 12 per contest. An output that trails West-leading Calgary’s 14 goals per game by two and trumping Toronto, the East Division leader, by a goal.
Heading into Friday’s contest, Hall knows that a repeat performance of the Stealth’s January 25 win at Rexall Place will mean controlling Rush rookie forward Mark Matthews. And holding down an Edmonton team that is producing an average of 12 goals-per game.
In his first professional season, the number one NLL draft pick is leading Edmonton with 12 goals, while adding another 13 assists.
“(Mark Matthews) is a phenomenal player there is no doubt about that. Even though he’s a rookie in this league we really don’t consider him to be a rookie,” said Hall, whose defenders struggled to contain the 6-4, 210 pound left hander during a four-goal, five-assist performance in the Stealth’s home loss to the Rush on Jan. 20.
When the home-and-home series shifted to Edmonton in late January, the Stealth managed to not just control Matthews, who they held to a single goal, but handle its defense as well.
“Edmonton’s defense is different to play against,” said Ratcliff, who has gone head-to-head with Edmonton 18 times in his career.
“They’re so fast and so athletic they really don’t give you any time to think. You just have to keep your feet moving, keep the ball moving and try to get to spots instead of trying to carry the ball there,” he said. “You have to try and think a couple steps ahead and be ready to make a pass or shoot when you get the ball,” he said.
The outcome of Friday’s game could be important in determining post-season spots, with the winner holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. With a division as tight as the West tiebreakers could make a big impact on the playoff picture down the stretch.
NLL Week 7
Game: Washington Stealth (4-3) v. Edmonton Rush (1-4)
Date: Friday, February 15, 2013
Time: 6:00 p.m. PST
Location: Rexall Place – Edmonton, Alberta
Webcast: The NLL on YouTube via the Lacrosse Network available at www.StealthLAX.com
Despite going 0-2 against a 2012 Edmonton team that played in last season’s NLL title game, the Stealth have a lifetime 12-8 record against the Rush.
With 14 faceoff wins last weekend, the Stealth’s Bob Snider needs just 11 more to reach 700 career faceoff wins. The fourth-year man out of Bellarmine University, who already holds the franchise record with 674 faceoff wins, leads the NLL this season with 129. He is three ahead of his older brother Geoff who plays with the Calgary Roughnecks.
With a goal in last weekend’s game, Lewis Ratcliff surpassed Josh Sanderson (2000-04) in goals to become the franchise’s fourth leading scorer.
Both Dean Hill and Brett Bucktooth got milestone points on Saturday night. With his assist on Athan Iannucci’s goal in the second quarter Hill tallied his 200th career point. With his goal in the first quarter Bucktooth scored his 150th career point.
Cliff Smith scored his 11th goal of the season on Saturday setting a new personal best for goals in a season. Smith’s previous best was in 2010 when he scored 10 goals as a member of the Colorado Mammoth.