The Washington Stealth look to use momentum from their win in opener when they play the Colorado Mammoth on the road on Saturday night. (Photo: Richard Olson)
The Washington Stealth will look to build off their season-opening win when they take on the Colorado Mammoth on the road on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 9:00 p.m. ET at Pepsi Center. Watch the game live on the NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network and also on Altitude2 via satellite.
After beating the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks (0-1), the Stealth (1-0) come into the game with a winning record, something that eluded this team for the entire 2012 NLL season.
Stealth forwards Rhys Duch, Athan Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff waited until the second half to really start clicking but, when all was said and done, the “big three” scored seven of Washington’s 13 goals, including four of their five fourth-quarter goals. Duch finished the game with six points (3+3), including an assist on Iannucci’s game-winning goal with 1:23 remaining. Duch’s assist was also his 350th career point registered in 63 career games.
Stealth head coach Chris Hall was overall very pleased with his team’s effort on Saturday and is hoping that his team will carry that momentum from Saturday’s game with them to Denver this weekend.
“Obviously it’s great to win the season opener and we will hope to build on that and improve,” Hall said. “It gave us the confidence we needed to prove to ourselves that we are a good team.”
The surprise of the night came from forward Cliff Smith, who led the Stealth with a career-high and game-high eight points (3+5) and was named Player of the Week at his position. Smith scored all three of his goals in the first half including a game-tying goal late in the first half to pull the teams even at six before the break. Smith also had several key assists in the second half, including one on Iannucci’s game winner.
Smith, who was drafted by the Mammoth in the first round in 2009, will be playing against his former team for the first time since being traded to the Stealth at the trade deadline in 2011.
The big three for the Stealth in Ratcliff, Duch and Iannucci all average at least five points per game against the Stealth over their careers. Ratcliff has recorded 111 points (50+61) over 21 games against Colorado. The four-year veteran Duch has registered 50 points (28+32) in 12 meetings with the Mammoth. Iannucci has limited experience against the Mammoth after spending most of his career in the East Division, but in six games against the Mammoth, he has scored 32 points (16+16)..
The Stealth lead the all-time series against the Mammoth 17-10 and last season these teams met for a March home-and-home weekend series where each team won its respective home game.
Last weekend, Washington defeated the defending NLL Champion but their task won’t be any easier this week as they will face reigning NLL MVP John Grant Jr. Last season, Grant scored an NLL single-season record 116 points (50+66) in just 14 games. Coincidentally, the two games Grant missed were against the Washington Stealth in March.
Grant did however have some success against Washington in 2011, scoring nine points (4+5) in two games against the Stealth.
“It’s always a tough place to play,” Hall said. “They were an 11-5 team last year, added five or six new faces to an already-good team and facing the always-great John Grant presents its issues.”
The Stealth looked vastly improved all over the floor from last year, noticeably better on defense with rookie starters in second-round draft pick Tyler Garrison and third-round draft pick Tim Henderson.
On offense, sixth-round pick Kyle Buchanan was named NLL Rookie Player of the Week after making a big contribution in his debut with four assists while rookie free agent Mitch McMichael scored an important fourth quarter goal at transition and was named Transition Player of the Week.
“I thought they were really good,” Hall said. “They all played very well. McMichael and [Buchanan] looked great up front and Garrison and Henderson looked strong on defense.”
With a start like the one this season, the Stealth are confident they have what it takes to return to prominence in the NLL. Hall knows that his team has added some elements that they may have lacked last season.
“We have really good depth all over the floor and we have really improved in or lacrosse intelligence this season,” he said. “Our energy level is high and we have a good mix of experience, youth and athleticism.”