By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
The Washington Stealth certainly didn’t think they would play 10 games before getting their first home win of 2012, but that is the way it played out.
The Stealth defeated the National Lacrosse League’s top team on Sunday night, the Colorado Mammoth, 11-8. With the win, the Stealth improved to 3-7 on the season and the Mammoth dropped to 8-2. Washington also kept Colorado from clinching a playoff berth for at least one more game.
The Stealth scored eight goals in the second half to turn a 4-3 halftime deficit into a three-goal victory. It may have taken the Stealth’s offense a half to pick it up, but it was certainly a welcome sign for a unit that has struggled most of the season.
The Stealth introduced their version of the big three, Athan Iannucci, Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff. Iannucci had struggled since being acquired last month from the Edmonton Rush, but broke out with a his first hat-trick as a member of the Stealth. Duch also had a hat-trick and Ratcliff scored two goals. It was the first time that all three players have had multiple goal games in the same game.
There seemed to be a sense of relief from the players and coaches after the game that they had finally broken through and with good reason. Up until this point, Washington’s season has had very few ups and an inordinate amount of downs.
But Sunday’s win was the type of win that turns a season around. In the NLL eight of nine teams make the playoffs, so the Stealth were far from out of the playoff race. Washington also has much more talent than its record would indicate. The Stealth almost stole one from Colorado on Saturday night in Denver and came back to Everett and proved to themselves that they could be the Mammoth.
With the amount of injuries that the Stealth have had added on to the several roster moves that they have made, this team has still yet to reach its potential to work as a unit. For one half on Sunday though, they were a well-oiled machine.
Washington now has some momentum that it can take into its bye week before they travel to Edmonton to face the Rush on March 24. The extra time should give the Stealth even more of an opportunity to go over film and analyze the thing that haven’t been going right and fix them.
In my observation, Washington has had a lot of its success when the offense has moved the ball well and not settled for the deep shot. Iannucci brings some grit to the team because he is not afraid to get inside near the goal and it paid off against Colorado.
The Stealth also welcomed back Tyler Richards, who had missed three games with injury. Richards was stellar in his return, saving 42 of the 50 shots he faced.
The offense clicking, the defense holding teams under 10 goals and Richards making brilliant save after brilliant save make the Stealth a very scary team to play coming down the stretch.
When the Stealth hit the floor again they should be healthier than they have been all season. And a healthy Stealth team is much better than 3-7.
If opponents view the Stealth as a 3-7 team, they are going to get beat. The Stealth’s final six opponents are in for a tough task because this team is healthy and hungry to get back to the championship.
Game awards for Sunday:
Player of the game: Athan Iannucci, Three goals and one assist for the veteran. Just what the Stealth needed and why the acquired him. Iannucci can do even better than this, but certainly great to see him have a breakout performance.
Unsung hero of the game: Tyler Richards, In any other game, Richards would have been the unquestioned star, but with the offensive struggles that the Stealth have had this season, seeing them finally click was definitely the story. But you can’t forget Richards, all he did was give the Stealth a chance to win as he has in nearly every other game he has played in this season.
Honorable mention: I’ve got to throw a bone to the Stealth defense this week, led by Kyle Sorensen. Washington held Colorado to just eight goals. The Stealth were physical with the Mammoth and they appeared to frustrate them throughout the game. Richards job in goal becomes that much easier when the defense is doing a fine job in front of him.
Offense, defense and goalkeeping coming through on the same night. It’s amazing how good a lacrosse team can be when they get those things.