Stealth rookie defender Justin Pychel (left) chases down a Mammoth player in Washington's 17-13 January road win at Denver's Pepsi Center. (Photo: Jack Dempsey / Colorado Mammoth)
EVERETT, Wash. – The Washington Stealth return home to Comcast Arena Saturday night to face rival Colorado following a three-game road swing that closed-out the month of January for the NLL club. The NLL West matchup between the two .500 squads gets underway at 6:45 p.m.PST in Everett, Wash.
After holding on to the division lead for most of January, the Stealth, now 3-3, dropped the trailing two games of their road matchups with Edmonton, Minnesota and Rochester to settle into second spot in the West along with the Mammoth.
Saturday’s game – the Stealth’s second this season against 2-2 Colorado, a team that it has historically dominated, presents an opportunity to build momentum into February and retake the top position in the West from Calgary. Washington has won nine of its last 10 against Colorado dating back to 2009.
To re-seize the West, the Stealth will look to a defensive unit that spent the first month of the season frustrating its opponents, and continued production from its offensive guns that tore up the NLL scoring with just over 13 goals-per-game.
“In this league you have to have everybody playing well -- getting goals, good defense and goaltending. If you can get that you’re going to have some success,” said Stealth defenseman Curtis Hodgson, who set the all-time club record for games played last Saturday with 133.
In the Stealth’s 17-13 road win over the Mammoth in game two of the season, it was forward Cliff Smith that put on a show, taking pressure off the other Washington big threats Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Dean Hill.
Delivering four goals and three assists in a performance that earned NLL Player of the Week honors, Smith opened the door for Duch, Ratcliff and Hill to each chip in three apiece in the Stealth’s strongest offensive show this season.
Now six games into the 16-game schedule, the Stealth still find itself second in the league with 72 goals scored. Only the Calgary Roughnecks have managed to put more balls in the net then Washington this season.
Duch, who was held to just a single goal in last weekend’s 7-6 loss at Rochester, has scored 15 goals on the season putting him in a tie for second place in the NLL with Calgary’s Shawn Evans. Ratcliff also figures prominently in the top scorers with 13 this season, which ranks as fourth best in the NLL.
While the Stealth stumbled last weekend, Head Coach Chris Hall was pleased with the performance of his defense and the play of veteran goaltender Tyler Richards. He sees the two as keys to Saturday’s game with the Mammoth.
“I was pleased with the way we played on defense and our goaltending was spectacular, but both teams struggled on offense,” said Hall. “I wasn’t totally disappointed with our performance but it’s a long way to travel to come home empty handed.”
In his career, Richards is an impressive 7-0 against the Mammoth with a 9.28 goals-against-average and a save percentage of .812. And overall, the British Columbia native ranks fourth in the NLL allowing 11.01 goals against average and fifth in the league with 157 in the four games he has played this season.
Totals that give Hall and the Stealth confidence going into Saturday’s game.
“I think he looks settled, he’s healthy and looks strong in the net. It’s great to be able to play in front of a guy that you know is going to make a big stop for you,” said Hall.
On the Mammoth’s side of the floor, the Stealth will again have to contend with reigning NLL MVP John Grant Jr. who so far is picking up right where he left off in 2012 leading the league with 17 goals and ranks fourth in the league with 30 points.
When these two teams met in January Grant was the key to the Mammoth offense, leading the team with three goals and three assists in a losing effort to the Stealth.
Going into Saturday’s game, Hall knows that keeping Grant at bay is key to the Stealth’s success.
“It’s no secret that the ball goes through Junior (John Grant Jr.) on Colorado’s offense. You know you’re not going to keep John off the score sheet,” he said. “You just hope that you’re strong enough and sharp enough to limit the amount of points he gets.”
And it's not just Grant, but the full threat of the Mammoth forwards that will put the Stealth defense to the test again on Saturday.
A test Stealth defenders relish as they've held squads to fewer than 11 goals-per-game including an impressive outing last weekend limiting the defending NLL champions to just seven goals.
This season, Colorado’s offense has scored just over 13 goals-a-game including last weekend’s 15-goal night against Minnesota.
One area where the Stealth will seek improvement is the power play.
Effective against the Mammoth in January with the Stealth going 3-for-5, Washington struggled in man-advantage situations last weekend against Rochester.
“We gave up a shorthanded goal on the power play again which has really been an Achilles heel for us this year and it stung us early,” said Hall.
It’s returning home to the Great Northwest that Hodgson thinks could be just what the team needs to get back on track.
“It’s going to be really nice to come back and play at home," said Hodgson.
"I think we’re comfortable at home, we get treated really well and get a tremendous amount of fan support from the people in Everett and the surrounding communities," he said.
NLL WEEK 6
Game: Washington Stealth v. Colorado Mammoth
Date: Saturday, February 9, 2013
Time: 6:45 p.m. PST
Location: Comcast Arena- Everett, Wash.
Webcast: The Lacrosse Network available at www.stealthlax.com
With last Saturday’s game against Rochester, Stealth defender Curtis Hodgson played his 133rd game becoming Washington’s “Iron Man” to break all-time the franchise record of games played.
Stealth transition player Bob Snider continues to lead the NLL in face-offs won. The Calgary native is winning face-offs at a 71 percent success rate. He needs just 25 more face-off wins to get to a career-total of 700.
The Stealth’s non-profit partner for Saturday’s game is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Through the partnership, the Stealth encourage lacrosse fans to learn more about AFSP and its programs and to engage in conversation about this difficult topic.
Saturday’s home game marks the Stealth’s celebration of mascot Bomber the Fox’s birthday. As a part of the celebration, all kids 12-and-under can join in the fun, receiving a free piece of Bomber’s birthday cake while joining in birthday party fun and games that include face painting, birthday card signing, balloon artists, a bracelet and poster station, beanbag toss with prizes, video games and pre-game mascot autographs.
Following the game, fans can meet and take pictures with the Stealth’s Lewis Ratcliff, Matt Beers, Cliff Smith, Tim Henderson and Bob Snider while they sign autographs on the Comcast Arena floor.
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