The Stealth celebrate after Duch scores the game-winning goal. Photo Credit: Sean Rudyk
The Washington Stealth picked up their first win of the season in a thriller at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, defeating the Bandits 11-10 in overtime on Saturday.
Rhys Duch capped off a huge offensive performance (four goals, four assists), scoring 1:13 into overtime and finally getting the Stealth (1-3) into the win column.
“I just caught them out of position a little bit, saw an opportunity underneath and took it,” said Duch of his game-winner, adding with a chuckle that “it was the exact same shot” that he scored last year in Buffalo to tie the game late and send it to overtime.
“Our best players have to be our best players every night,” said Washington coach Art Webster. “I think that we battled hard when we got behind and they got up one we answered and they tied it up and we kept answering. And tonight, our best players were our best players.”
Buffalo’s coaching staff tried to key on Duch and Lewis Ratcliff, but the tandem was unstoppable tonight, combining for seven goals and seven assists.
“We know what they can do,” said Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour. “As a coach it’s hard because they’re mentioned in all the pregame speeches, they’re mentioned in the timeout speeches, they’re mentioned at the halftime speech and that’s what makes them great players they still find a way to go out there and get it done.”
The Bandits (2-3) were hoping to give their 14,577 fans a strong performance. The crowd was boisterous as ever late in the game, urging their team to grab a victory, but they were sent home disappointed for the second time in a row.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot with that first half,” said Kilgour. “We came out flat and let Washington take it to us and right there is what we have to correct.
“The last couple games we’ve been down three or four goals to start, and we’ve been playing catch up and it takes a lot out of you and that was the game right there. We did a great job of battling back, refocusing at half time, but in the end I think it was the first half that killed us.”
A strong start was a big change for the Stealth after struggling in the first quarter of their first three games. On Saturday, they grabbed a first-quarter lead for the first time all season on Ratcliff’s short-handed goal that made it 3-2 and the Bandits never led after that.
Buffalo had plenty of chances throughout the game to put together some runs, but sloppy execution hurt them dearly.
“We’re doing it to ourselves and everything we’re doing is correctable and that’s where we’ve got to go as coaches and a team is get these mistakes corrected and play a full 60-minute lacrosse game and we’ll be just fine,” said Kilgour.
After successfully killing a five-minute penalty late in the first half Mat Giles scored right out of the box and it seemed there was a momentum shift. But Ratcliff’s early third-quarter goal kept the Bandits from going on a run.
Buffalo’s transition game, usually a strength, was not a major factor as several opportunities were wasted by dropped passes and poor finishing.
Bandits forward Kevin Buchanan had his strong work ethic on display all night long, putting nine shots on goal, but managed two assists.
Offensively, the Bandits were led once again by John Tavares (two goals, three assists) and former Stealth forward Luke Wiles (four goals, one assist). Mat Giles had another strong performance with a pair of goals and two assists.
“They packed their defense so they forced us to shoot the ball from the outside,” said Wiles of the Stealth’s defensive scheme. “There was only one guy that we didn’t want the ball in his stick at the end and for a young kid, Rhys Duch seems to just keep doing it over and over again and that one really (stinks) for us.”
Former Bandit Brett Bucktooth had a strong game with two goals and one assist in his return to Buffalo after having been picked up by Washington last month.
“A lot of people ask me about the revenge factor and that’s not part of my game, that’s not why I play,” Bucktooth said. “I’m thankful that Washington picked me up and I just want to go out there and play the best that I can for them.”
The Bandits are looking for answers after a 2-0 start has been followed by a three-game losing streak.
“We’ve got a lot to work on with a three-game losing streak, we’ll punch in Tuesday and turn it around,” said Kilgour. “We’re not happy with where we’re at right now, the Bandits have a strong tradition and history and 2-3 is not it.
“The coaches are frustrated, the players are frustrated and it’s do or die time with the league the way it is this year and how close it’s going to be we’ve got to get back to .500 and then get on the right side of .500.”
The Bandits will look to right the ship when they travel to Philadelphia to face the Wings next Sunday afternoon. The Stealth will return home and face Calgary this Friday.