The Washington Stealth left the Air Canada Centre in Toronto last week with a 14-9 victory. The decisive victory improved the Stealth to 2-6 on the season, but it may have provided something else that the team has been searching for all season: momentum. That momentum will be put to the test this weekend in a home-and-home series with the West Division-leading Colorado Mammoth.
The Stealth is coming off its best performance of the 2012 season, having scored a season-high 14 goals and allowing a season-low nine. The improvement is due in part to some key additions in the lineup: some returning from injury, another a free agent signing out of necessity.
The offense saw a spike in production with the return of forward Jeff Zywicki. Zywicki, who was placed on the injured reserve list two games into the season, tallied two goals and two assists in his first game since January 21. But his leadership up front spawned scoring from the entire offensive cast.
“Having Jeff back in the lineup was fantastic for our offense, which has been struggling,” said Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall, who watched his offense score a league-low 9.28 goals per game prior to last week. “He’s a wonderful quarterback up front and he made a big difference, no question.”
The Stealth continues to get steady production from Lewis Ratcliff, who leads the team with 35 points (17g, 18a) this season. Fellow forward Dean Hill has come on strong of late with five goals and three assists in his last two outings. The offense awaits the return of All-Pro forward Rhys Duch, who is questionable for this weekend’s action as he recovers from an upper body injury.
The Stealth defense rebounded last week, allowing nine goals just one week after giving up 15 to the Minnesota Swarm. Assistant Captain Kyle Sorensen and seven-year NLL vet Chris McElroy, both returning from injury, were key in the turnaround.
“Sorensen is the anchor and leader of our defense and McElroy brings a tremendous amount of energy,” said Hall. “It’s the closest our defense has been to being healthy all season, and it showed.”
The defense played well in front of goaltender Kevin Croswell, who was playing in his first game with the Stealth after being signed as a free agent just days earlier. Croswell earned NLL Defensive Player of the Week honors, making 41 saves on 50 shots in the win. He may be called upon again this weekend as starting goaltender Tyler Richards is questionable due to injury.
That Stealth defense will have its hands full with the potent attack of the Colorado Mammoth. The Mammoth leads the NLL averaging over 13 goals per game, led by the NLL’s leading scorer John Grant, Jr. Grant has 68 points (31g, 37a) this season, becoming just the third player in NLL history to score 500 career goals last week. The 37-year old has seen a resurgence playing with the talented Colorado offense that features three other players with 30 or more points on the year.
The Mammoth, with a league-leading 7-1 record, has a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a pair of wins this weekend. The Stealth hopes the momentum built last weekend will carry into the home-and-home series and postpone the Colorado playoff party.
“Our backs were against the wall last week and we responded,” said Hall. “We had to get back on track and treated it as a must-win. Hopefully, it will be the kick-start we need to get things going in the second half. It starts with a strong performance this weekend.”
The Washington Stealth and Colorado Mammoth will play twice this weekend. The teams will be in Denver on Saturday night at 6:00pm PST, followed by a trip back to the Comcast Arena at Everett on Sunday at 4:45pm PST.
Tickets for Sunday night’s contest, entitled “Mascot Madness”, start at just $7 and area available by calling 877-MY-75-TIX or at www.stealthlax.com.