After three weeks of training camp, it was finally time for the 2009 San Jose Stealth to take the floor. They relished the opportunity to hit someone wearing a different jersey as they traveled to Denver, Colo., for an exhibition game against the Colorado Mammoth on December 20. In what proved to be a valuable learning experience for rookies and veterans alike, the Stealth pulled out a 12-11 overtime win in the hostile confines of the Pepsi Center.
Both players and coaches agreed the first half was a struggle, as the vets knocked off the rust and the rookies learned the game. “We knew it would take the guys a little time to get into the flow of the game,” said first-year Head Coach Jeff Dowling. “But you could see the improvement from the first to the second quarter and into the second half. Rookies like (Kyle) Hartzell, (Will) Dalton and (Brett) Manney really came into their own in a short amount of time”
The Mammoth opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game, when Andrew Potter snuck a long-range shot past Stealth goalkeeper, Aaron Bold. Twenty seconds later, Tom Johnson evened the score for San Jose when he caught a Colin Doyle pass, beat a Colorado defender with a nifty move and found the back of the net. Colorado went ahead again at the 8:20 mark, but once again Johnson tied the score on another feed from Doyle. Colorado scored two unanswered to end the opening stanza with a 4-2 lead.
Things got better for the Stealth in the second quarter, when they took advantage of their first power play opportunity with a goal from Frank Resetarits just ten seconds into the man advantage. With their lead cut to one goal, Colorado made a move with less than five minutes left in the first half. They scored back-to-back goals to extend the lead to 6-3 and appeared to have momentum on their side. The Stealth had other plans however, and with fourteen seconds left Jeff Zywicki scooped up a loose ball in the offensive end and scored from just outside the crease to cut the Mammoth lead to two. Zywicki wasn’t finished as he tallied his second goal of the game just ten seconds later when Rhys Duch found him hiding to the left of the cage where he buried the tough-angle shot. The two quick goals brought the score to 6-5 as the teams headed to the locker room for halftime.
“It took a half to realize how intense the indoor game is,” said rookie transition player Will Dalton, who starred as a field player at the University of Maryland. “(Indoor) is a different game, mostly because of the physical play and speed of the game. But once you get out there, you just have to adjust and increase your intensity.”
The Stealth did just that, getting more physical and improving on the loose ball battle. Duch evened the score at six at the 13:39 mark of the third quarter with a beautiful behind-the-back tally on a feed from Doyle. The teams continued to trade goals in the third, and ultimately entered the final quarter with the score knotted at eight.
A fortunate bounce gave San Jose the lead less than thirty seconds into the final frame as Cam Sedgwick saw the ball ricochet off his stick and past the Colorado goalie. It began a flurry of goals as the Mammoth drew even with a power play goal less than a minute later. Zywicki completed his hat trick and put the Stealth back in front just twenty seconds after that. Another power play goal from Colorado tied the score at ten with ten minutes left to play in regulation. They took the lead with 6:45 remaining on a goal from Dan Carey.
With time winding down and the Stealth trailing, Doyle, who was credited with eight assists in the game, took matters into his own hands by collecting a loose ball with two Mammoth defenders around him then dove through the crease to score the equalizer. It sent the game into overtime with the score tied at eleven.
A late Colorado penalty at the end of regulation gave the Stealth over a minute of power play time to start the overtime period. They wasted little time capitalizing. Dalton won the opening face off that was collected by Hartzell. Doyle found Duch at the point and he rifled a shot that found the top corner of the net and ended the game just thirty seconds into overtime. The Stealth bench cleared in celebration as they escaped the Pepsi Center with the 12-11 victory.
Although it was just an exhibition, the experience of winning a tough game was invaluable for the young Stealth squad. “It’s good for the young guys to see how tough it can be to go on the road and battle in the NLL,” said Doyle after the game. “Win or lose this was an opportunity for us to grow, and I think we did that.”
The Stealth have one final training camp on the weekend of January 3rd before they open the NLL regular season on January 9th against the Calgary Roughnecks. That game is scheduled to begin at 7:00pm at the HP Pavilion. Tickets can be purchased by calling 877-MY-SJ-TIX or at Ticketmaster.com.