Defender Matt Beers (left) and transition player Bob Snider break up a play in the Washington zone in the Stealth's 13-12 opening night win over Rochester Saturday. (Photo: Richard Olson)
EVERETT, Wash. – With a satisfying 13-12 opening night home win over the defending NLL champions in the books, the Washington Stealth now hit the road on Saturday, turning their attention to West Division rival Colorado Mammoth for their second game of the young NLL season.
Saturday’s game, which gets underway at 7 p.m. MT (6 p.m. PT) at Denver’s Pepsi Center, is webcast live on The Lacrosse Network at www.StealthLAX.com.
Pleased with a gritty opening night win, Stealth Coach Chris Hall is looking to carry his squad’s opening night momentum into the Mile High City this weekend.
“Obviously it’s great to win the season opener (against Rochester). We hope to build on that and improve,” said Hall, whose squad overcame seven ties and a five-goal second by Rochester to win the game in the final minutes of play. “(The Rochester game) gave us the confidence we needed to prove to ourselves that we are a good team.”
Looking ahead to Saturday, Hall and his defensive unit will be faced with a Mammoth team that advanced to the 2012 post season after finishing an NLL second-best 11-5. Along the way, the squad led the league in scoring with 217 regular-season goals for an average of 13-and-a-half goals per game.
With a retooled defense that held Rochester to 47 shots in the season opener, Washington is well equipped to contain Colorado and the league’s reigning MVP in John Grant, Jr. who is coming off his most productive NLL season of 116 points (50g ,66a) in just 14 games. But the Stealth is not overlooking the Mammoth’s other threats.
“It’s one thing to key on John (Gant, Jr.) said Stealth defender and Captain Kyle Sorensen. “But there are plenty of guys on that roster that can score as well.”
Among them are Gavin Prout, a 5-10, 190-pound veteran forward that figured prominently in 2012 netting 22 goals and 61 assists for 81 points in 14 games along with Adam Jones and Sean Pollock.
Jones, a 5-11, 175-pound second-year man, earned NLL Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 after netting 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points, while Pollack at 5-10, 175 pounds tallied 26 goals and 35 assists for 61 points in 16 games.
In a rivalry that dates back to 2001 the Stealth split a home-and-home series with Colorado last year and lead the all-time series 17-10.
Among the keys to Saturday’s game will be the continued sharp goaltending of veteran stopper Tyler Richards.
With a stingy defensive unit at work in front of him turning out opening night performances that included seven loose balls from Bob Snider and five from Assistant Captain Mike Grimes, Richards was a difference maker stopping the 47-shot Rochester attack. Richards also figured prominently against Colorado last March, making 40 saves on 48 shots in the Stealth’s 11-8 home win.
On the attack, the Stealth will look to its “Big Three” offensive threats in Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci along with forward Cliff Smith to keep Colorado’s defenders busy.
While Duch tallied three goals and three assists and Ratcliff and Iannucci each netted two goals apiece, it was Smith, a first-round draft choice of Colorado in 2009, who’s three goals and five assists last Saturday that could have his former team thinking.
As with last Saturday’s opener, a large part of the team’s success this season will depend on the progression of Hall’s rookies, four of which impressed in their NLL debuts.
Among them are Kyle Buchanan who finished with four assists and Mitch McMichael who had an important fourth quarter goal.
“I thought they were really good,” said Hall. “They all played very well. McMichael and Buchanan looked great up front and Garrison and Henderson looked strong on defense.”
The Stealth have already proved that they are a vastly improved team from last season and are ready to once again contend for the NLL Champions Cup as they did in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
“We have really good depth all over the floor and we have really improved in or lacrosse intelligence this season, said Hall. “Our energy level is high and we have a good mix of experience, youth and athleticism.”
NLL Week 2
Game: Washington Stealth (1-0) at Colorado Mammoth (0-0)
Date: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013
Time: 7 p.m. MT (6 p.m. PT)
Location: Pepsi Center, Denver Colorado
Webcast: The Lacorsse Network via www.StealthLAX.com
Stealth forward Cliff Smith was named Offensive Player of the Week in Week #1 of NLL play for a career night while Mitch McMichael was named Transition Player of the Week and forward Kyle Buchanan was named Rookie of the Week for their efforts during Stealth’s opening night win last Saturday over Rochester.