EVERETT — After 11 games, the National Lacrosse League’s Washington Stealth had been plagued by nagging inconsistencies that have come back to haunt them in nearly every loss. On Sunday night, they choose one night to do everything right.
Washington played its best game of the season in dismissing the Minnesota Swarm 20-13.
The storylines were plentiful. Rhys Duch had a 10-point effort, scoring four goals and dishing six assists, defenseman Kyle Sorensen had his first career hat trick, Tyler Richards saved 49 shots and five Stealth players scored at least two goals.
“I have been waiting a long time to see that and I know it was in us somewhere,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “It’s taken a long time to come out, but our energy levels were twice what I think they have been all year and it showed. The back end was flying. Everybody was firing on all cylinders.”
With the win over Minnesota, the Stealth improve to 4-8 on the season and are in a virtual tie with the Edmonton Rush (3-7) for fourth place in the NLL’s West Division. The Rush won the season series in the event that both teams finish with identical records.
The Stealth lost a 10-9 decision to Edmonton on Saturday night, temporarily dropping them out of a playoff spot and making their road to securing a playoff berth much more difficult.
Washington responded from its most disappointing loss of the season with its most impressive game. So, what got into the Stealth?
“To be honest, probably CH (Chris Hall) and a little bit of pride,” Duch said. “We missed out on a big opportunity last night in Edmonton. They are pretty much who we are battling for that playoff spot with and we let one slip away and I think it was more our play than theirs that cost us the game. It lit a bit of a fire under our butts and CH had a few speeches as to how we need to play better or else and we came out flying.”
Hall acknowledged that he issued a challenge to his team.
“I think I challenged them in the pregame meal and the scouting session to say that it was unacceptable for us to be as talented as I think we are and yet sitting in last place,” Hall said. “The offense had to be better and certain players needed to be performing at much higher levels and that generally we needed to play like we think that the talent is here can play.”
Duch has been a consistent goal-scorer for the Stealth since his first game with the franchise in 2009. But on Saturday, not only did he find the net he also played the role of facilitator to his teammates — dishing six assists.
“We talked about that too in terms of our stars have got to be superstars and they have to make everybody around them better,” Hall said.
And then there was Sorensen who scored goals in the first quarter and back-to-back goals in the third quarter — each seemingly more impressive than the last.
“Hot stick tonight huh,” Sorensen said with a smile. “You know the balls were flying in for me. You know you look down the line and I think we had eight or nine come from our back end. It’s nice to see some defensive guys get some goals that’s for sure.”
Hall said that Sorensen’s performance could have been motivated by the anger and frustration of what has gone on previously this season.
“I think anger, anger that this team that has been to the championship the last two years was sitting in last place,” Hall said. “I think there was a lot of soul searching after last night’s game to say, you know, ‘what are we really doing here. This is ridiculous, we are much better than that and we need to start playing that way.’ So, I think it was just anger over our collective performance to date.”
Sorensen also anchored a Stealth defensive unit that gave up just seven goals through three quarters, until a slight lapse in the fourth. A big reason for that was Richards, who has saved 40, 47 and 49 shots in three consecutive games respectively since returning to the team from injury.
“You take some time off and it gives you a chance to re-evaluate your game and figure out what was working and what wasn’t working,” Richards said.
Hall said having his starting healthy netminder is important to Washington’s continued success.
“Obviously it hurt us a bit when he was out for such a long period of time, but he’s back,” Hall said. “Clearly he is one of the top goalies in the league without question.”
A loss on Sunday would have dropped the Stealth 11/2 games behind the Rush without a tie-breaker meaning that they would have to finish ahead of Edmonton for the final playoff spot. Richards summed up what it meant.
“If we lose that game we are possibly out of the playoffs,” Richards said.
So, how big?
“I don’t think there are words to describe what that meant to us,” Richards said.
The Stealth hit the floor again at 6 p.m. on Saturday when they travel to Calgary to face the Roughnecks.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
Stealth 20, Swarm 13
Minnesota 1 3 3 6 — 13
Washington 5 4 6 5 — 20
1st Quarter—Scoring: WAS—Bucktooth Goal (Hill) 0:20. WAS—Duch Goal (SH) (Ratcliff) 1:31. WAS—Iannucci Goal (PP) (Duch, Ratcliff) 4:24. WAS—Sorensen Goal (Beers) 5:52. MIN—Suitor Goal 7:48. WAS — Cummings Goal (Duch, Iannucci) 8:57.
2nd Quarter—Scoring: MIN—Card Goal (PP) 1:41. MIN—Watt Goal (SH) (Gilbert) 4:35. WAS—Duch Goal (PP) (Zywicki, Hill) 4:52. WAS—Martin Goal 5:57. MIN—Card Goal (SH) (Benesch, Crawford) 9:25. WAS—Beers Goal (Duch, Hodgson) 13:41. WAS—Hill Goal (PP) (Zywicki, Ratcliff) 13:58.
3rd Quarter—Scoring: WAS—Duch Goal (Cummings, Zywicki) 1:08. MIN—Benesch Goal (Crawford) 3:19. MIN—MacIntosh Goal (Belisle) 3:29. WAS—Bloom Goal 4:16. WAS—Duch Goal (Ratcliff, Moleski) 5:10. MIN—MacIntosh Goal 6:10. WAS—Sorensen Goal (Hodgson, Beers) 7:42. WAS—Sorensen Goal (Beers) 8:07. WAS—Hodgson Goal (Martin) 9:27.
4th Quarter—Scoring: WAS—Zywicki Goal (PP) (Duch, Ratcliff) 2:01. MIN—Suitor Goal (Earl) 2:33. MIN—Suitor Goal (Carlson) 4:35. WAS—Cummings Goal (Salt, Snider) 4:43. MIN—Watt Goal 5:19. MIN—Crawford Goal (Card) 6:16. MIN—Tao Goal (Card, Benesch) 7:06. WAS—Bucktooth Goal (Beers, Hartzell) 7:26. MIN—Ross Goal (Gilbert, Earl) 8:46. WAS—Hill Goal (PP) (Duch, Ratcliff) 10:58. WAS—Ratcliff Goal (PP) (Cummings, Duch) 12:51.