The Washington Stealth are headed to the NLL Championship Game for the third time in four years after their 14-13 road win over the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Division Final at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night. (Photo: Brad Watson)
The Washington Stealth are headed to the NLL Championship Game for the third time in four years after their 14-13 road win over the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Division Final at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night.
”Two great lacrosse teams and some phenomenal lacrosse players,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “You are watching some of the best athletes on the planet when you watch these two teams go at it.”
Despite seven second-half goals by Roughnecks forward Curtis Dickson, the Stealth held on for the win in a game that came down to the final possession. Down by one goal with the goalie pulled, Calgary failed to get a shot off with 10 seconds left before Washington cleared the ball down the floor to help the remaining time expire.
Washington lead 2-0 after the first quarter, 8-5 at halftime and 11-10 after the third quarter in a game in which they never trailed.
Stealth forwards Athan Iannucci and Rhys Duch both scored three goals and finished with seven points while goaltender Tyler Richards made 39 saves on 52 shots to help them get back to the title game.
Dickson finished with eight points (7+1) and was the first NLL player to score seven goals in a postseason game since Buffalo Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis accomplished the feat in 2008. Dane Dobbie scored a hat trick as the only other Roughnecks player to score more than once. Calgary forward Shawn Evans, the NLL’s regular season scoring champ with 112 points, opened the scoring for the Roughnecks early in the second quarter but finished with just three assists the rest of the way.
”Two great lacrosse teams and some phenomenal lacrosse players,” Hall said. “You are watching some of the best athletes on the planet when you watch these two teams go at it.”
The first quarter set the scene for a physical battle in the “Rough House” with both teams setting the pace high and pushing for momentum. The Stealth went up 2-0 after the first quarter, despite the Roughnecks controlling for the better part of the first.
The second quarter started with the Roughnecks on the power play and Shawn Evans gave them their first goal of the game. Then, shorthanded, Dobbie tied the game at 2-2, sending the Saddledome into a craze.
Those would be the first two streaks for each respective team during a game that was always catch-up for the Roughnecks.
“The offense played really well they moved the ball extremely well, the defense just couldn’t make the stops,” said Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride. “We battled back and battled back and the offense did a great job in the trenches and then they scored right away. We never seemed once we tied it to be able to have a couple good defensive shifts and I thought that was the issue. We needed those stops.”
In the third quarter, the Stealth would expand their lead to 10-5 before Curtis Dickson began to explode for the Roughnecks. He had three straight goals for a hat trick, bringing the Roughnecks within two goals. In the final quarter, Dick would continue to put points on the board.
“I don’t think I had a very good first half, I was a little bit disappointed in myself and had some time to reflect on it,” Dickson said. “As a whole team we came out and played well in the second half. “
“We got some separation on them but we couldn’t do anything with Dickson,” Hall said. “He was unbelievable. We couldn’t stop him.”
But Dickson’s unbelievable performance would not be enough to bring the Roughnecks back.
“It’s a tough game, a tough pill to swallow, our main goal is to get the championship here,” Dickson said. “I would trade all those goals for a chance to play next week.”
“Great players rise to the occasion, like Dickson and Dobbie, and Duch the same thing,” Hall said. “We kept putting the ball on his stick even though he was getting blocked, even though we knew he was getting doubled teamed he still found a way to come up with some huge goals.”
Duch had seven points in the game and the goal that set the Stealth apart in their 14-13 victory, despite the Roughnecks attempts to shut him down.
“Early in the game they were definitely taking the shots away from me and you’ve got to react and be a feeder so that’s the role I took on,” Duch said. “At the end of the game they put the ball on my stick and they gave me the opportunity and that’s the role I play.”
The Roughnecks, as the top seed in the West, walked off the field with broken hearts, feeling they played hard and did everything they could.
“We are deep all the way through and so are they. It comes down to a couple of bounces here or there a couple of turn overs here or there and a couple of ground balls,” Geoff Snider said. “There are so many intangibles and uncontrolled variables in the game of lacrosse. We got two big teams that work hard and play hard and it’s just going to go one way or the other.”
“The season is a waste. Straight up,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “You don’t win – it’s a failure. All of the hard work went down the tube. Proud of my guys, they battled and they battled hard but the end result is we didn’t get the job done and it stings and it hurts. It’s going to be a long, long time before these guys get over it but I’d go to battle with those guys anyday, anytime. I love them a lot. They don’t have to be ashamed of anything they did because they left it on the floor.”
While the Roughnecks leave tonight disappointed that they won’t get a chance at the championship this year, Chris Hall is proud that his guys will have their chance.
“It’s pretty rewarding to get back to the championship game after last season, and personally rewarding for me because of my health issues last year.”
In a matchup of two of the league’s top faceoffmen, Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider got the better of his younger brother Bob by going 25-for-30 (83%) on the draw, finishing with a game-high 17 loose balls.
The Stealth won the 2010 NLL Championship Game at home before coming up just short in their repeat bid with their title game loss to the Toronto Rock on the road in 2011. The return marks an impressive turnaround after missing the playoffs in 2012 with a 4-12 record.
Washington will host the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks for the 2013 NLL Championship Game at Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Columbia on Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on CBS Sports Network.