One thing that has been pretty evident in my two years of covering the Washington Stealth is that when head coach Chris Hall talks, the team listens.
They did again on Saturday, responding to his requests for the offense and power play to be better in a 16-14 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks. With the win, the Stealth move into a first-place tie with Calgary and take a 1-0 lead in the all-important season tiebreaker.
This game wasn’t about the five minutes that nearly cost the team the game, but about the other 55 minutes that the Stealth played probably their best lacrosse of the season.
Washington had built a 12-7 lead heading into the final quarter and it looked as if they were going to run away with the game. Then, one mental mistake by goalkeeper Tyler Richards nearly changed everything. Richards was called for a high-sticking penalty on a retaliation play against the Roughnecks that sent him to the penalty box for five minutes.
Calgary wasted little time in taking advantage. By the time Richards returned to the game the Roughnecks had cut the deficit to just 13-12.
A quick goal after he returned by Geoff Snider tied it at 13.
It was a mental lapse that proved how quickly things can change in this league. Luckily, it wouldn’t cost the Stealth.
Washington scored the next three goals and secured the victory.
Richards apologized to his teammates after the game for his mistake. His teammates likely thanked him for the other 55 minutes he played. The Stealth goalkeeper has arguably been the best net-minder in the league for the past four games. He saved 45 of the 54 shots he saw on the night.
In my mind the Stealth solidified themselves as a contender for the championship with Saturday’s win. They did what they had to do in all areas of the game. Offense, defense, special teams, it was all sharp — if you discount those five minutes.
The way the Stealth played for most of the game and the way they overcame adversity when things got tough are the things championship teams are made of.
In my mind it was the signature victory of the season thus far for Washington.
Players of the Game: Rhys Duch and Athan Iannucci. Duch recorded another hat trick and dished out a career-high seven assists. His 10 points also tied a career-high. Iannucci broke out with four goals and three assists. With the surrounding cast of offensive players chipping in and two of the Big 3 stepping up, the offense was potent throughout the game.
Unsung Hero of the Game: Brett Bucktooth. At times this season Bucktooth has been quiet. On Saturday he had two goals and two assists and helped the Stealth pull away.
Comeback Player of the Game: Tyler Richards. The penalty was bad, but the rest was great. Richards play before and after the penalty are the reason why the Stealth are back in first place.