It was hard to tell it was nothing more than the season finale.
The Washington Stealth, though they lost 17-16 to the Buffalo Bandits in overtime, displayed a sense of pride in their craft on Saturday night.
The Stealth finished the season 4-12 and had been eliminated from the playoffs going into Saturday night’s game, but somehow, they still came out with pride and intensity that nearly willed them to victory. It was a different kind of game than most other Stealth games this season. Sure, they fell behind 4-0 early. But it was apparent that the team had come to prove something not only to their fans, but to themselves.
The Stealth began to rally from that early four-goal deficit late in the first quarter and eventually took a 6-5 lead. The offensive production of Lewis Ratcliff helped quickly erase the deficit. Ratcliff had four goals by halftime and finished the game with seven goals and four assists.
The game remained a back-and-forth affair until the Bandits began to pull away late, extending out to a 16-11 lead. But the Stealth once again were resilient. They took advantage of a five-minute major penalty called on the Bandits and methodically closed in on Buffalo. Athan Iannucci and Rhys Duch scored two goals apiece and Ratcliff score the equalizer in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime.
The extra frame did not at all resemble one of two teams that had nothing to play for. The defense was spectacular on both ends and the goalkeeping of Kevin Croswell and Anthony Cosmo was nothing short of stellar as well. In the end, it was 43-year-old John Tavares who scored the game-winner with 5:05 left in overtime.
It was a bitter end to a game in which the Stealth had played so well and showed so much fight, but also indicative of the season they have had.
The game also marked the end of the career of Cam Sedgwick. Sedgwick has spent the past 10 seasons with the Stealth organization and ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in games played, goals, assists and points. Sedgwick received a standing-ovation from the crowd before the game for his efforts the past 10 seasons.
This season didn’t give Stealth fans a whole lot to cheer about, but the final game showed the heart that took this team to the NLL Championship game the previous two seasons. It also gave Stealth fans hope that when next season begins — hopefully with Chris Hall back at full strength as he continues to recover from Throat Cancer treatment and with a healthy roster — that this team can get back to some of the success that they have had the past two seasons.
But after a 4-12 record, don’t be surprised to see some changes.
Player of the game: John Tavares: You have to hand it to him, even at 43-years-old he is still one of the best and he displayed it on Saturday by connecting on the game-winner.
Stealth Player of the game: Lewis Ratcliff: It was without question the best game Ratcliff has played this season. He recorded the team’s only sock trick of the season and totaled a stellar 11 points. It was the type of performance that Stealth fans are accustomed to seeing from Ratcliff and certainly the type of performance he hopes to have more of next season.
Stealth Unsung hero of the game: Kevin Croswell: Croswell came in to relieve Tyler Richards in goal in the third period and didn’t disappoint. Croswell did give up five goals, but also made some crucial saves including one with 30 seconds left in regulation that forced overtime.