The Washington Stealth will look to stay undefeated this weekend when they travel to the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., to take on West Division rival Colorado Mammoth on January 30. It is the second meeting between the two teams this season, with the Stealth cruising to a 17-8 victory in the season opener on January 9. Even though that game was just three weeks ago, Saturday’s meeting is likely to be much different.
After starting the season 0-2, the Mammoth (2-2) made some changes on the bench and brought in President and General Manager Steve Govett as the interim Head Coach. Since the change, Colorado has won their last two games, both in dramatic fashion. In Minnesota on January 22, Tom Ethington registered the game-winner in overtime to give Colorado a 15-14 victory. The following night in Philadelphia, Alex Gajic provided the heroics with an overtime tally of his own in the 12-11 win.
Since the January 9 game against the Stealth where Colorado scored just eight goals, the Mammoth are averaging over 13 goals per game in their last three contests. Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall attributes Colorado’s better numbers to a growing team chemistry. “They had huge roster turnover going into the season,” said Hall. “It was the first game of the season so they didn’t have the time to develop as a team. But four games in and you can see all of their young talent coming together.”
Leading the way for the Mammoth offense this season is Jamie Shewchuk, who is fourth in the NLL with 23 points (11g, 12a). He finished with four goals and an assist against the Stealth in their first meeting. Sensational rookie Ilija Gajic (10g, 8a) and Cory Conway (5g, 13a) are next with 18 points apiece.
Another big reason for the Mammoth’s turnaround this season has been the play of Andrew Leyshon in goal. Leyshon struggled in the first two games of the season, after replacing the injured Curtis Palidwor in the season opener. In the last two wins however, Leyshon is holding opposing offenses to less than ten goals per game and has a .798 save percentage.
While the Mammoth have found their stride and are playing their best lacrosse of the young 2010 season, another obstacle facing the Stealth this time around is the location of the game. The first meeting between the teams took place in the Comcast Arena in front of 5,000 Stealth supporters. Game two will be in the Pepsi Center, one of the most hostile environments for opposing teams in the NLL. The only home game for Colorado this season saw over 15,000 fans come out to support their beloved Mammoth.
“It’s an energetic environment and certainly not Stealth friendly,” said Hall on playing in the Pepsi Center. “It’s a great place to play and as much energy as they provide the Mammoth, I think our guys will feed off it as well.”
On the Stealth side of the ball, the 4-0 start has been a complete team effort. Every player on the 23-man active roster has seen the floor, and all have been contributors to the early success. Eighteen players have registered a point and 22 players have recorded at least one loose ball.
“After a 4-0 start, there isn’t a lot to be disappointed with,” said Hall. “That being said, we still have some things to improve on. But we have a lot of depth and to go far in this league you need to have depth.”
That depth will be tested again this week with the absence of Team USA members Eric Martin and Paul Rabil missing this week’s action due to national team obligations.
Leading the Stealth offense is three-time All-Star Jeff Zywicki. Zywicki leads the league with 26 points (10g, 16a). Reigning NLL Offensive Player of the Week, Lewis Ratcliff is close behind with 23 points (12g, 11a). Ratcliff scored six goals (and added three assists) in the Stealth’s most recent game against the Calgary Roughnecks, propelling him to the top spot among the league’s goal scorers with twelve this season. 2009 Rookie of the Year Rhys Duch currently ranks sixth in the NLL with 20 points (6g, 14a).
Assistant Captain Cam Sedgwick (8g, 9a) and NLL Transition Player of the Week Rabil (3g, 13a) are the other Stealth players with double-digit points at 17 and 16, respectively.
Defensively, the Stealth have received a boost from the penalty kill unit which ranks first in the NLL. The Stealth have allowed just three power play goals in 19 chances and scored a league-high six shorthanded goals.
The Stealth also boast the top goaltender tandem in the NLL with Tyler Richards and Matt Roik. Both players rank in the top five in goals against average and save percentage. Richards is second in the league with a 10.11 goals against average (Roik is fourth at 10.41), while Roik is third in save percentage at .785 (Richards is tied for fourth at .784).
The game in Colorado is scheduled to begin at 6:00pm PST at the Pepsi Center. The game can be seen live on Altitude or on the NLL Network at NLL.com.