Stealth coach Chris Hall (left) high-fives captain Kyle Sorensen following last Saturday's come-from-behind West Division Semi-final playoff win over Edmonton (Photo: Brad Husick)
CALGARY, Alberta – Riding momentum from a dramatic come-from-behind victory in last weekend’s playoff opener, the Washington Stealth is set for its third Division Championship Game in the past four years when it takes on the Calgary Roughnecks this afternoon. The winner brings home the NLL West crown and a trip to the NLL Championship Game.
Game time at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome is 3:30 p.m. PDT. The NLL West Division Final is broadcast live across the U.S and Canada on the CBS Sports Network.
With last Saturday’s win against the Edmonton Rush, the Stealth improved its all-time playoff record to 8-4 and is an impressive 6-1 in the playoffs since moving to Washington for the 2010 season.
Flying high after advancing to the West Final, the Stealth and head coach Chris Hall learned firsthand that success is not just how you start a game, but how you finish.
“As much as everybody wants to get off to a good start, everyone also wants to be playing well in the middle and the end of the game,” said Hall, whose team overcame a five-goal deficit at the half to soar past Edmonton and into today’s West Final.
“Things happen over the course of a game, you try your best to playing at your peak for the whole 60 minutes but sometimes momentum isn’t going your way and our last game is evidence of that.”
To gain the upper hand on Saturday, the Stealth will again look to the NLL regular-season goals champion Rhys Duch to counter-punch the scoring of Roughnecks forward Shawn Evans who topped the NLL with 112 points.
With Duch landing four goals in each of his last three games, the Stealth has a confidence level that offensive momentum is on its side. But along with confidence, there is respect for an opponent that has potent striking power capable of throwing a team off balance.
And it’s the defense that will carry the lion’s-share of that responsibility in keeping Roughnecks forwards and number three and four scorers in the league, Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie at bay.
Meeting challenges is what the NLL playoffs bring and for Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen, there’s a quiet confidence – and respect in the team’s preparation for a squad that led the league in regular-season offense with 13.88 goals per game.
“I’m quite comfortable going (into Calgary),” said Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen whose squad held the league’s most potent offense to 11 goals on its way to a 12-11 victory in their last meeting April 6 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“We know how good they are from goaltending out, they are well coached and obviously they’re offense is one of the best in the league,” Sorensen said.
While Stealth defenders will look to slow the Roughnecks’ attack, it's also proving to be a scoring threat.
Last weekend the Stealth got four second-half goals from its defensive unit including two from rookie Tyler Garrison recording his first career multi-goal game. Mike Grimes and Jeff Moleski also pestered the Rush defense, with each adding a single goal in the 12-11 win.
With the offense and defensive unit firing on all cylinders, it’s the battle between the pipes that could prove a difference maker on Saturday afternoon.
Both starting goaltenders finished the regular season ranked in the top five for saves with Calgary’s Mike Poulin ranked third, finishing three saves ahead of the Stealth’s Tyler Richards. Richards, with two fewer games than Poulin, finished fourth in saves, while closng-out his regular season second in save percentage at .795 and fifth in goals against average at 10.92.
Historically the Roughnecks hold the upper hand on the Stealth leading in both the all-time series where it holds a 20-13 lead including a 2-1 advantage in three meetings in the post season.
However, looking at the recent history in head-to-head matchups between these bitter rivals it is the Stealth which holds the upper hand.
This season, Washington was the only Western Division team to beat Calgary in the season series winning two out of the three meetings.
The last time these teams met in the post season the Stealth defeated the Roughnecks 10-8 in the 2011 Western Division Finals played once again in Calgary, Alberta.
For Stealth head coach Chris Hall, the rivalry extends well beyond head-to-head play and into his career as the Roughnecks head coach from 2002-2007.
Hall was the first head coach in Roughnecks history when it began its inaugural season in 2002 leading the team to an NLL Championship in 2004.
Under Hall, the Roughnecks had a 46-42 record through the 2007 season and a 3-3 record in the playoffs.
Since becoming the Stealth’s head coach mid-way through the 2009 campaign, Hall has a 35-31 record and has led the organization to a 6-2 record in post-season play.
Emotions will be running high for both teams as the winner moves onto play in next weekend’s NLL Championship Game Presented by Reebok.
“We seem to be in the right place right now and are relatively injury free which is where you want to be so we’re in the place we want to be for the division final,” Hall said.
The winner of Saturday’s game will host next weekend’s NLL Championship after the league’s number one seed, the Toronto Rock, was eliminated last weekend at the hands of the Minnesota Swarm.
History favors the home team of the championship game in recent years as the NLL title has been won by the home team in each of the last five years.
2013 NLL WEST DIVISION FINAL
Game: Washington Stealth (9-7/1-0) at Calgary Roughnecks (9-7/1-0)
Date: Saturday, May 4, 2013
Time: 3:30 p.m. PDT
Location: Scotiabank Saddledome - Calgary, Alberta
Television: CBS Sports Network (Comcast channel 412 / DIRECTV channel 613 in Seattle market)
This week Stealth General Manager Doug Locker was named the 2013 GM of the year. This is Locker’s ninth year with the team and the fourth as General Manager.
With a six-goal effort last week, Stealth forward Rhys Duch became the franchise’s new leader in post-season points. Duch, who currently is at 54, passed his former teammate Jeff Zywicki who had 52 points with the Stealth organization in post-season play.
Saturday marks the fourth time this season that brothers Bob and Geoff Snider will go head to head in the faceoff circle. Geoff has edged his younger brother in face-offs in two of the three meetings this season. But the Stealth handed the Roughnecks losses in each of those games.
Washington fans can cheer the Stealth on at the team’s official viewing party at Sporty’s Beef and Brew in Everett this Saturday. The festivities get underway at 3:30 p.m.
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