The Washington Stealth (1-0) beat the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (0-1) at home by a score of 13-12 in the 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season opener before 7,203 fans at Comcast Arena in Everett on Saturday night.
“We’re back," said Stealth head coach Chris Hall, whose team missed the playoffs last year. "Couldn’t ask for a better start."
Washington got off to a good start as Rhys Duch opened the scoring almost two minutes into the game to help the Stealth take a 3-1 lead into the second quarter. Rochester scored three unanswered goals to start the second frame and led 6-4 until Washington answered with two goals in the final two minutes for a 6-6 halftime tie.
10 different players scored in the first two quarters, as Cliff Smith’s hat trick for the Stealth made him the only scorer with multiple goals in the first half. Duch recorded six points (3+3) while Smith was named Game MVP after finishing with a game-high and career-high eight points (3+5).
“I had never really found a groove here [before]," said Smith, who scored his first career hat trick in his fourth NLL season. "Last year being hurt and the year before getting traded here at the deadline, I was looking forward to getting a full year in here.”
Neither team led by more than two goals at any point of the tightly-contested contest. Rochester led 9-8 after three quarters until Washington’s Lewis Ratcliff tied the game at 11-11, his second goal of the night, a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Rookie transition player Mitch McMichael gave the Stealth a 12-11 lead with 5:46 remaining.
Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen took a penalty with 2:55 left in regulation and Johnny Powless cashed in on the power play for Rochester with a highlight-reel behind-the-back goal to tie the game, 12-12. Just 30 seconds later, Stealth forward Athan Iannucci scored on a diving goal with 1:23 remaining to regain the lead.
“Great players do great things," Hall said. "That’s why they're here and you see them raise their level of play to make sure we get ourselves back in it."
The Knighthawks had a chance to tie it late, but Stealth goalie Tyler Richards made the stop to preserve the lead and secure the win as Washington played keep-away for the final 10 seconds.
Matt Vinc had 51 saves on 64 shots for the Knighthawks, while Richards made 35 stops on 47 shots for the Stealth. Cody Jamieson (1+4) and Powless (2+3) led the Knighthawks with five points each while Cory Vitarelli scored a hat trick. Casey Powell, one of Rochester’s biggest offseason additions, was a last-minute scratch with the flu and newly-acquired teammate Dan Dawson finished with three assists.
The Stealth started four rookies and they did not disappoint in their debuts. Kyle Buchanan posted a four-assist night, McMichael scored an important late goal while Tyler Garrison and Tim Henderson had strong defensive outings.
Although the Stealth struggled last year, Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen was not surprised by Washington's performance.
“They played a dynamite game," Hasen said. "That’s what we expected out of them. They're a very good team and have a lot of talent."
The Stealth travel to Colorado next weekend to take on the Mammoth on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 9:00 p.m. ET while the Knighthawks have a bye in Week 2.
NLL.com team beat writers Ben Tole and Travis Larner contributed to this report.