Stealth sharp in victory over defending champs

For Washington Stealth fans last season was something that most wish they could forget. It was one of those years where nothing seemed to go right. The Stealth finished 4-12 with the league’s worst record and missed the playoffs after making it to the National Lacrosse League championship game the previous two seasons.

Saturday night the Stealth took the first step toward erasing those terrible memories. Washington came from behind to beat defending NLL champion Rochester 13-12 thanks to Athan Iannucci’s game-winner with 1:23 left in the regulation.

The victory featured several shining moments for the Stealth that would lead this writer to believe that 2013 is going to be a different season.

Forward Cliff Smith recorded his first-career hat trick. Stealth head coach Chris Hall had said before the season that he was looking for a healthy Smith to produce more offensively this season and he got it. Smith’s goals all came in the first half and were crucial because the “Big Three” of Iannucci, Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff were struggling to find the net at the time.

While it might not be Smith that steps up every game, it’s nice to see a member of the surrounding cast coming through when it’s needed. Some games it could be Dean Hill or Brett Bucktooth or even rookie Kyle Buchanan, but having players besides the three stars that can find the net will be crucial to the Stealth’s success.

Perhaps the thing I was most impressed with from Saturday’s win was how disciplined the team was. A year ago the Stealth would commit foolish penalties at the worst possible times. Against Rochester the team only had two penalties in the whole game. Not giving the opposition chances at the power play will result in a lot more victories for the Stealth.

The Big Three picked it up in the second half. Duch and Iannucci each scored a goal in the first half, but in the second half Duch added two more, Ratcliff added two and Iannucci got one — but it was the biggest one, the game-winner.

Having chemistry between Duch, Ratcliff and Iannucci will also lead to a lot of success for the 2013 version of the Stealth.

And it was nice to see the enthusiasm. This was an inspired group that played as a team for 60 minutes. The team lacked that at times a year ago.

From a bigger picture perspective it was nice to see a big crowd. The announced attendance was 7,023, one of the biggest crowds the team has drawn since it moved to Everett before the 2010 season. If the Stealth are going to stay in Everett long term, they need more crowds like they got on Saturday.

But if every game is as good as Saturday’s, it’s very likely many of those people will return.

Drawing the defending champions in the season-opener was a tough matchup, but the Stealth rose to the occasion — something they didn’t do much in 2012.

But this is a new year and a new team.

The Stealth couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season.

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