CALGARY — The Washington Stealth haven’t overwhelmed anybody in their two National Lacrosse League playoff games, but they’re still headed to their third Champion’s Cup match in four years. Saturday, the Stealth won their second straight one-goal game, overcoming a seven-goal second-half effort by Calgary’s Curtis Dickson on Saturday to defeat the Roughnecks 14-13 in the West Division final. As a result, the Stealth will play host to the Rochester Knighthawks in the NLL Champion’s Cup at 4 p.m. next Saturday. The game will be played at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Colombia, because of a scheduling conflict at Comcast Arena.
It will be the Stealth’s third appearance in the championship game in the past four seasons. They defeated the Toronto Rock 15-11 in 2010 to win the franchise’s first championship. They returned the following season, falling to the Rock 8-7. Washington failed to make the playoffs last season.
“That’s a tough gig to get to three of four championship games,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “When you think that we didn’t make the playoffs last year and made changes and have gotten all the way back again, how could anybody really ask for anything more than that?”
The Stealth had to come from behind to beat Edmonton in the West Division semifinal. Against Calgary, it was the Stealth looking to avoid having the same done to them. Washington led 2-0 after the first quarter, but the Roughnecks answered early in the second quarter with two of their own to tie the score at 2-2.
Washington came back with three goals of its own. Forward Athan Iannucci scored two of the next three goals and defenseman Justin Salt scored off a forced turnover to give the Stealth a 5-2 lead.
“Athan is such a big-game player and he stepped up huge this game,” Stealth forward Rhys Duch said. “He kind of got our offense going. And we’ve always said everybody in our transition game on the this team is great and Salty (Justin Salt) scored one early and he got another one late. Our team is a lot more successful when we are getting goals from our transition game.”
Iannucci has never won a championship, but will get his first shot at one next Saturday.
“We wanted more out of Athan in the middle of the year,” Hall said. “We thought we could get more out of him. I had a chat with him before the game. Athan is still looking for his first championship. He said he wants it bad. I said, ‘you know Athan, I know you want it bad, so now’s the time. If you are real hungry you can get it. We know you are capable of doing it. Tonight could be the night to really give yourself a leg up to giving yourself an opportunity to go all the way and win your first one.’”
Just as they had done in the earlier in the quarter, the Roughnecks responded to the Stealth’s run with three consecutive goals including a shorthanded goal by Joe Resetarits and the game was tied again at 5-5.
The game of runs continued late in the second quarter and early in the third as the Stealth scored the next five goals, including the first NLL goal by rookie defenseman Tim Henderson to give the Stealth a 10-5 lead.
Then Curtis Dickson took over the game. He scored four consecutive Calgary goals in the third to cut the Stealth’s lead to 11-9. He continued his assault on the Stealth in the fourth quarter, getting three more goals, each one tying the score.
Dickson scored seven of the Roughnecks eight second-half goals and finished the game with seven goals and one assist.
“That was an unbelievable performance,” Duch said. “He’s a great player and he showed that tonight. He’s obviously disappointed with the result, but I don’t think I have ever seen a performance like that.”
While Stealth goalkeeper Tyler Richards saved just 50 percent of Dickson’s shots, he saved 84.2 percent of the shots from every other Roughneck.
“He’s a fantastic player and he has a few pretty dangerous moves,” Richards said of Dickson. “We held to nothing in the first half and he came alive. He’s a big-time player and he made us pay in the second half. But we did what we needed to do and came out with the win.”
The Stealth’s biggest offensive weapon all season had been Duch, but Calgary was making it difficult for him to get looks at the goal for most of the game. But in the fourth quarter he played like the MVP-candidate he has been all season. He answered a Dickson goal to give the Stealth the lead back at 12-11. Dickson later tied it at 13 before Duch scored what proved to be the game-winner with 6:54 to play in the game.
“They were bringing (double teams) early to me and that kind of forced me into a feeder role and that’s fine whatever helps our offense win,” Duch said. “They were worn down a little bit in the end and the doubles weren’t coming as quick and the coaches had the confidence to give me the ball at the end of the game and fortunately I came through.”
The Roughnecks tied the score five different times during the game, but never led.
Duch and Iannucci paced the Stealth’s offense, each with three goals and four assists.
The Stealth and Knighthawks met twice in the regular season with each team winning one by just one goal. It championship also will feature two of the best goalkeepers in the league in Richards and Rochester’s Matt Vinc.
“It’s always a good match between us,” Richards said. “He’s the reigning goalie of the year and he’s a tough competitor. But I enjoy the competition and it makes me raise my game to that next level because I know if I’m not at least as good as he is we are going to be in for a long night.”
Stealth 14, Roughnecks 13
Washington 2 6 3 — 14
Calgary 0 5 5 3 — 13
1st Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Smith Goal (Ratcliff, Iannucci) 8:15; WAS — Ratcliff Goal (Iannucci, Bucktooth) 10:08. Penalties: Moleski, WAS (Holding, Minor, 2 min) 3:26; Beers, WAS (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 13:58.
2nd Quarter — Scoring: CGY — Evans Goal (PP) (Shattler) 0:49; CGY — Dobbie Goal (SH) (MacRae, Carnegie) 2:10; WAS — Iannucci Goal (Duch, Moleski) 4:11; WAS — Salt Goal 4:23; WAS — Iannucci Goal (Duch, Grimes) 6:47; CGY — Dobbie Goal (Evans) 7:51; CGY — Dobbie Goal (Veltman) 8:05; CGY — Resetarits Goal (SH) (Shattler, Cornwall) 10:40; WAS — Duch Goal (PP) (Hill, Snider) 11:31; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (Ratcliff) 12:42; WAS — Iannucci Goal (Duch, Smith) 14:02. Penalties: Snider, CGY (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 1:54; Harnett, CGY (Roughing, Minor, 2 min) 9:45.
3rd Quarter — Scoring: WAS — Henderson Goal (Garrison, Richards) 0:30; WAS — Hill Goal (PP) (Ratcliff, Iannucci) 2:49; CGY — Dickson Goal (SH) (McBride, Snider) 3:15; CGY — Dickson Goal (PP) (McFetridge, Heavenor) 5:37; CGY — Dickson Goal (Evans) 6:11; WAS — Bucktooth Goal (Duch) 7:38; CGY — Dickson Goal (Shattler, McBride) 8:30; CGY — Ranger Goal (Dobbie, Dickson) 10:06. Penalties: Harnett, CGY (Checking from Behind, Minor, 2 min) 2:14; Harnett, CGY (Illegal Cross Checking, Minor, 2 min) 2:30; , WAS (Illegal Substitution, Minor, 2 min) 4:47.
4th Quarter — Scoring: CGY — Dickson Goal (Dobbie) 1:44; WAS — Duch Goal (Bucktooth, Smith) 3:58; CGY — Dickson Goal (McBride) 5:36; WAS — Salt Goal (Sorensen, Grimes) 6:04; CGY — Dickson Goal (Evans, Shattler) 7:05; WAS — Duch Goal (Iannucci, Smith) 8:06. Penalties: None.