LANGLEY, B.C. — The Washington Stealth couldn’t have gotten much closer to the top of the mountain in Saturday’s National Lacrosse League championship game, but they never quite reached the peak.
Instead, the Rochester Knighthawks scaled the mountain for the second consecutive year, defeating the Stealth 11-10 for their second straight NLL championship. They are the league’s first repeat champions since the Toronto Rock in 2002 and 2003.
Washington showed its resilience by fighting back from four- and three-goal deficits, but each time Rochester responded. And in the final seconds, the NLL’s 2013 Goaltender of the Year, Matt Vinc, came up huge.
Stealth forward Rhys Duch had two opportunities to tie the game in the final 30 seconds, each foiled by Vinc. Duch’s second effort came after a forced turnover by rookie Tyler Garrison with less than 10 seconds to play. Duch’s shot from straight away was stopped by Vinc with less than two seconds remaining and time expired on the Stealth’s season.
“I think from a league perspective, you couldn’t ask for a more exciting game,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “I think it was two great teams, two great goaltenders and a great lacrosse game — a bounce here and there and we didn’t get it in the end.”
The Stealth trailed 7-3 in the first half, but came back to tie the game at seven with 5:44 to play in the second quarter. Rochester scored the final three goals of the half to take a 10-7 lead into intermission.
The Stealth would climb within one goal in the second half, but never again tie the score.
The Stealth could have been even closer at the break had luck been on their side. They had two shots bounce off the top of the goal. “The lacrosse gods were on the other side of the floor tonight,” Hall said.
The teams split victories in the regular season, with each team winning a close game on its home floor, so the margin of Saturday’s game wasn’t a shock. How the goal-scoring played out was surprising.
Rochester opened the scoring and the two teams traded goals until Brad Self’s goal with 4:35 left in the first quarter gave Rochester the first multi-goal lead of the game. The Knighthawks added another goal before the end of the quarter to take a 5-2 lead going into the second period.
Washington turned to its most experienced veteran, forward Lewis Ratcliff, who scored his only goal of the night with 12:41 to play in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 5-3.
Rochester’s Cody Jamieson scored the game’s next two goals to give Rochester a 7-3 lead with 10:21 to play in the half. It was the largest lead of the game.
Then it was Washington’s turn to make a run. It started with Garrison, who has provided a big spark this postseason. His goal with 9:27 to play in the second quarter cut the deficit to 7-4 and was the first of four goals in 3 minutes and 43 seconds for the Stealth, who tied the game at seven.
Garrison scored two goals in Saturday’s championship to go along with the two he scored in the Stealth’s West Division semifinal victory over Edmonton last weekend. Garrison’s four postseason goals matched his regular-season total.
“We drafted him with our first pick in the draft last year because we think he is a championship-caliber player and I think he proved that through the playoffs,” Hall said. “He got huge goals and he obviously played fantastic.”
But the game of runs continued as the Knighthawks scored the final three goals of the half to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.
The Stealth made adjustments to the Knighthawks’ first-half offensive explosion in the locker room and wasted little time trimming the deficit in the second half.
Duch, a first-team All-Pro, scored his second goal of the night and forward Brett Bucktooth followed with a shot from straight-away that beat Vinc with 9:05 to play in quarter.
After nearly two and a half quarters of nothing but offense, the game shifted to a defensive battle the rest of the way.
Rochester regained a two-goal lead with 12:36 to play. Garrison’s second goal of the night got the Stealth back within one with 11:41 remaining, but Walters’ goal proved to be the game-winner.
After allowing 10 goals in the first half, Tyler Richards allowed one in the second.
“Our defense did a great job in changing the quality of shots that were coming at me,” Richards said. “They weren’t the right-down-the-middle type. They were the outside shots that I’m most accustomed to.”
After finishing 4-12 in 2012 and missing the postseason, the Stealth turned things around in 2013, finishing 9-7 and making it to the championship game for the third time in four seasons.
After winning in 2010, the Stealth have come up empty in their past two championship appearances.
“We battled,” Duch said. “I don’t think you can say that there is anybody out there that didn’t give everything they had. I’m proud to be a part of the Stealth.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Knighthawks 11, Stealth 10
Rochester 5 5 0 1—11
Washington 2 5 2 1—10
Scoring: ROC—Vitarelli (Walters, Jamieson) 3:16; WAS—Duch (Bucktooth, Iannucci) 3:56; ROC—Jamieson (SH) (Dawson, Smith) 5:58; WAS—Iannucci 6:27; ROC—Dawson (Point, Powless) 10:00; ROC—Self (McCready) 10:25; ROC—Accursi (Dawson, Walters) 12:29. Penalties: Self, ROC (checking from behind, minor, 2 min) 4:33; WAS (too many men, minor, 2 min) 4:53; Walters, ROC (holding, minor, 2 min) 5:21. Goalie changes: None.
Scoring: WAS—Ratcliff (Smith, Moleski) 2:19; ROC—Jamieson (Dawson, Powless) 2:47; ROC—Jamieson (Walters) 4:39; WASH—Garrison (Grimes, Sorensen) 5:33; WAS—Smith (Bucktooth, Duch) 6:09; WAS— Duch (Ratcliff, Bucktooth) 8:18; WASH—Smith (Ratcliff) 9:16; ROCH—Vitarelli 10:09; ROC—Powless (Jamieson, Walters) 12:13; ROCH—Point (Dawson, Vitarelli) 12:51. Penalties: Sorensen, WAS (roughing, minor, 2 min) 0:59; Kirk, ROC (holding, minor, 2 min) 0:59; Vitarelli, ROC (unsportsmanlike conduct, Minor, 2 min) 4:39; Beers, WAS (roughing, minor, 2 min) 4:39; Vitarelli, ROC (intentional contact, minor, 2 min) 7:23. Goalie changes: None.
Scoring: WAS—Duch (Ratcliff, Bucktooth) 3:29; WAS—Bucktooth (Iannucci) 5:55. Penalties: Self, ROC (slashing, minor, 2 min) 8:51; WAS (too many men, minor, 2 min) 11:41. Goalie changes: None.
Scoring: ROC—Walters (Accursi, Point) 2:24; WAS—Garrison Goal 3:19. Penalties: None. Goalie changes: None.