By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
LANGLEY, B.C. — The National Lacrosse League championship game that most fans expected to see didn’t materialize until the third quarter Saturday.
The Washington Stealth and Rochester Knighthawks met for the NLL’s biggest prize at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Columbia, with the Knighthawks winning their second consecutive championship by a score of 11-10.
With the caliber of the two starting goalkeepers and the defenses of both teams, a close, low-scoring game was expected. The halftime tally — 10-7 in favor of Rochester — resembled the final score many anticipated.
The two teams came into the game boasting two of the best goaltenders and two of the stingiest defenses in the league, so a 17-goal first half was a bit surprising. But both units returned to form in the second half. Knighthawks goalkeeper Matt Vinc and Stealth goalie Tyler Richards combined to allow just four goals over the final two quarters to turn what had been a shootout into the most extreme of defensive battles.
“We had a bit of a shootout and we had a grind-it game,” Stealth coach Chris Hall said of the two halves. “We had it all in one. We had a shootout in the first half and a grind-it-out in the second.”
Vinc may have gotten to hoist the Champion’s Cup, but Richards outplayed him in the second half. The Stealth net-minder allowed only one goal in the final two quarters, giving his team an opportunity to win the game.
Richards said afterward the game reminded him of the championship contest the Stealth played in 2011 against the Toronto Rock.
“It brought back a lot of feelings from 2011,” he said. “It was a very similar game. We fell behind early and kept them to one in the second half.”
Unfortunately for Richards, the result was the same as well. The Stealth’s rally fell short against Toronto in 2011 as Washington dropped an 8-7 decision. On that night, Hall-of-Fame goalkeeper Bob Watson got the better of Richards, making the key saves down the stretch to preserve the victory.
Vinc had a similar effort in the final moments Saturday, stopping two Rhys Duch shots in the final 30 seconds, either of which would have tied the game.
“We made the necessary adjustments at halftime, we just couldn’t beat Vinc in the second half,” said Duch, who led the NLL with 45 goals during the regular season.
Vinc finished the game with 39 saves. Richards stopped 38.
Though the halves couldn’t have been more different, Hall’s pregame prediction was right about one thing — the game would come down to the final seconds.
“Somewhere along the line late you have to get a bounce that goes your way or a call or something goes your way,” Hall said. “It didn’t, it went the other way.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.