(Photo: Greg Abel)
For the first time in the 2012 season, the Washington Stealth (2-6) looked like the two-time National Lacrosse League West Division Champions as they beat the Toronto Rock (4-4) 14-9 at the Air Canada Centre. Kevin Croswell earned Most Valuable Game honors as he made 41 saves in his debut with the Stealth.
The Stealth offense, which has struggled throughout the first half of the 2012 season, broke out with a season-high 14 goals from ten different players.
“You need three blue chip players on offense to really be effective in this league,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall. Having Zywicki back really opened things up front. We moved the ball well and took advantage of our opportunities.”
The Stealth scored the first three goals of the game, taking a 3-1 lead at the end of the first quarter. Lewis Ratcliff scored just over a minute in, followed by an Eric Martin tally, the 100th point of his career. Athan Iannucci scored just over ten minutes in to get the Stealth off to its best start of the season.
While the offense found its groove up front, the defense slammed the door early thanks to some tremendous goaltending by Kevin Croswell, who was making his first start of the season in goal. Croswell made 13 first quarter saves to get the Stealth off to a great start.
“It’s so uplifting for the entire team for a goalie to make some big saves early on,” added Hall. “(Croswell) got comfortable in the first quarter and he was solid throughout the game.”
The Rock’s Josh Sanderson scored 4:35 into the second quarter to get the Rock within a goal, but the Stealth answered with three straight. Dean Hill, Jeff Zywicki and Brett Bucktooth all scored goals to extend the Stealth lead to 6-2. After a pair of Rock goals, Hill scored his second of the game with 1:28 left in the half to give the Stealth a 7-4 lead at halftime.
The Stealth defense allowed just four goals in the first half, only the third time they’ve done so all season long. Croswell had 22 saves at halftime.
In the second half, the Stealth extended its lead to 9-4 after goals from Mike Grimes and Cliff Smith just over three minutes into the third quarter. Martin scored his second goal of the night two minutes later to make it 10-5. That goal would prove to be the game winner.
The Rock scored two more to close out the third quarter scoring and the Stealth headed into the final stanza with a 10-7 lead.
Zywicki made it 11-7 with an unassisted goal to start the fourth quarter. Zywicki scored twice and added two assists after missing five games on the injured reserve list.
“It felt great to be back out there and feel 100% healthy,” said Zywicki. “Our offense only works when we move the ball well and we have five guys working together. We did that tonight and the results speak for themselves.”
After Leblanc scored to cut the Stealth lead to three, Washington rattled off three straight, including goals by defensemen Justin Salt, the first of his NLL career, and Curtis Hodgson, who scored on an empty net with just over three minutes left in regulation. Leblanc scored the Rocks only power play goal of the night with a minute left to round out the scoring and give the Stealth a 14-9 victory.
Croswell finished with 41 saves to earn his first win in the NLL since April of the 2011 season. He was signed by the Stealth earlier this week as the team searched for a replacement for starter Tyler Richards, who missed his second consecutive game due to injury.
“It’s a great feeling to come in and contribute to a win like this,” said Croswell, who was released by the Edmonton Rush after one game this season. “The team came out firing and gave me a lot of confidence. Got a couple saves early and the defense in front of me made it easy for me throughout the game.”
The Stealth did well to stay out of the penalty box, getting called for just four penalties on the night. The penalty kill unit turned out its best performance of the year, allowing just one goal on four Rock power plays.
Offensively, the Stealth got a team effort despite playing without All-Pro Rhys Duch and Assistant Captain Cam Sedgwick. Hill led the way with five points on two goals and three assists. He has eight points (5g, 3a) in the last two games.
Zywicki and Ratcliff each added two goals and two assists. The Stealth defense chipped in offensively as well, adding five goals. Martin scored twice, while Salt and Grimes each added goals. Grimes also tallied a pair of assists.
Face-off man Bobby Snider had another stellar outing, going 19-for 27 on face-offs and collecting a game-high 13 loose balls.
The Rock was led offensively by Leblanc, who scored a game-high four goals. Former Stealth goaltender Matt Roik made 21 saves before being pulled for Paddy Campbell who made 22 saves in the second half in the loss.
The Stealth will have little time to celebrate the victory as they get back into action next week with a pair of games against the West-leading Colorado Mammoth. After playing in Denver Saturday night, the teams return to the Comcast Arena on March 11.
Tickets are on sale now and available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.