EVERETT, Wash. — The Washington Stealth emerged back on the NLL scene Saturday night delivering a gritty performance in taking down the defending league champion Rochester Knighthawks 13-12 before 7,023 at Comcast Arena in Everett.
In the 2013 NLL regular-season opener, the Stealth put 64 shots on Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc while pushing past seven ties and a five-goal Knighthawks second to put coach Chris Hall’s squad in position to win the game.
For Hall and his squad, freshly retooled after a demanding pre season, the opener had the feel of a team coming into its own at the mid-season mark.
“The intensity was high but the performance level was crisp. Some of the goals that were being scored and the things that were happening certainly looked like mid season form stuff,” said Hall.
The game winner came with 1:23 remaining on the clock as forward Athan Iannucci broke free on an isolation play and connected on a nifty feed from Rhys Duch and Cliff Smith to put Stealth ahead for good. Following a mandatory review, the goal was ruled good and the Stealth needed only to kill the remaining time on the clock to seal the victory.
“The play was an iso for me out of the corner and there was an extra guy at the net so once I went down low I had so much momentum that I just split right through the middle of them,” said Iannucci.
Smith, who scored three goals on the night — all in the first half, and five assists for a career high eight points to lead all scoring, figured prominently alongside Ratcliff and Iannucci in keeping pace with the Knighthawks.
“Most of the doubles and the pressure is going to those guys, so it definitely helps playing with those three,” said Smith.
The Stealth opened scoring just 1:46 into the contest on a Duch goal fed by Kyle Buchanan. Following a Rochester score at the 8:57 mark, the Stealth opened up a 3-1 lead on scores by Matt Beers and Smith.
In the second, Rochester began working its way back into contention on a pair of goals that knotted the game at 3-3.
Despite an inability to move into the lead since 6:13 of the second when Scott Campbell lifted Rochester into a 3-3 tie, the Stealth maintained their composure while chasing the Knighthawks goal-for-goal deep into the fourth.
In the second half, the “big three” for the Stealth (Duch, Ratcliff and Iannucci) combined to score four of the team’s five goals in the final stanza.
Duch finished the game with three goals and three assists for six points.
With his assist on Iannucci’s game winner, Duch marked his 350th career point in 63 games all coming as a member of the Stealth. Ratcliff and Iannucci scored two apiece.
With 5:46 remaining, Washington’s Mitch McMichael scored his first NLL goal, an unassisted bullet past Vinc, which briefly put the Stealth up 12-11.
“I was just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and pick up the ground ball and put it in the net,” said McMichael of the momentum changer.
Rochester’s Jonny Powless then knotted the game at 12-12 on a powerplay with just 1:53 remaining before Iannucci hit the winner.
For the Stealth, the defense was the key to helping goaltender Tyler Richards fend off a relentless Knighthawks attack that produced a respectable 47 shots on the veteran Stealth keeper.
“We really dictated where their shots were coming from,” said Richards. “We try to force them in our defensive system. I was really impressed.”
Among the standouts was defender Tim Henderson, one of the rookies making his NLL debut on Saturday. The West Point graduate finished the game with one shot, one loose ball and one turnover.
“To see how well Henderson moved against the defending champions was impressive,” said Richards.
Among the other fresh faces was forward Kyle Buchanan who had four assists on the night.
The Stealth relied on its scoring depth early in the game while Duch, Ratcliff and Iannucci found their strides. Smith and Beers combined for four of the Stealth’s six first half goals.
Also checking in with a goal in the game was forward Dean Hill who scored early in the third quarter tying the game at seven for the moment
On the defensive side of the ball the Stealth held Kighthawks 2012 leading scorer Cody Jamieson, an NLL top five finisher in goals and points, to a single goal.
“They played a dynamite game and that’s what we expected from them. They’re a very good team and have a lot of talent,” said Knighthawks Head Coach Mike Hasen. “(Richards) was really good tonight. He made a lot of big saves tonight when we had the opportunity to bury it.”
The Stealth expect to carry Saturday’s moment with them next weekend when they travel to Colorado to face the Mammoth at Denver’s Pepsi Center on Saturday January 12 at 6 p.m. The Stealth return home to Comcast Arena on January 20 when it takes on the defending Western Division Champion Edmonton Rush for a Sunday matinee at 2:45 p.m.
National Lacrosse League Commissioner George Daniel was in attendance for the opening game of the 2013 NLL season. It was the commissioner’s first visit to Comcast Arena since handing the Stealth the NLL Champion’s Cup trophy following their title-game victory in 2010.
Rochester 1 5 3 3 — 12
Washington 3 3 2 5 — 13