The second half of the National Lacrosse League season opens with a crucial home-and-home series for the Vancouver Stealth against the Colorado Mammoth.
The Stealth (4-5) trail the Mammoth (5-5) by a half-game and the teams have split their two earlier meetings this season already.
“You want to have a good first impression with them coming here,” said Stealth transition player Mitch McMichael.
The Stealth host the first end of the doubleheader on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre at 10 p.m. ET on NLL LIVE & TSN GO with the return engagement in Colorado set for March 29.
“Whenever you are playing at home, you want to have a good start and get (the fans) into the game, get them loud,” McMichael said.
The Stealth have won three straight games at the LEC after dropping their home opener. But to do so, they are going to have to shake off an ugly performance last week, a 19-7 loss to the Edmonton Rush. In that game, the Rush scored three times in the first seven minutes and never looked back.
Stealth coach Dan Perreault called the performance disappointing.
“We have to learn from the last game and move forward,” he said. “Not too many things went right for us but that was a heck of an Edmonton team that we played. They played a great game.”
The win improved Edmonton to 5-4 as they lead the NLL’s West Division. The Calgary Roughnecks are 2.5 games back of the Stealth for the final playoff spot at 2-8.
Perreault said his team did not react accordingly to the Rush’s pressure defence, despite knowing that is how they liked to play.
“They pressure you and we played on our heels,” he said. “It felt like we were constantly passing the ball back instead of attacking.”
“Our feet weren’t moving enough and the ball wasn’t moving enough,” Perreault added. “We learned from that, put it behind us and our focus is totally on Colorado this weekend.”
The Stealth are tied for second in the league with 13.4 goals per game but are surrendering 15.6 goals per contest, which is a league-worst.
Of course, 59 of those goals were surrendered in three games, including 20 to the Mammoth back in January.
McMichael said the team needs to do a better job of limiting the opposition’s momentum.
“Every team wants to play a full sixty,” he said. “But I think it is truly important that when a team goes on a run, we stop it, whether it be win a face-off, get a possession or get a big save or a stop. (We need to) limit those momentum shifts and extend ours as long as we can.”
Colorado picked up a much-needed win at home last weekend against Minnesota, defeating the Swarm 12-8. It snapped a two-game losing skid, and marked only its second win in the last six games. Just before that six-game stretch, the Mammoth and Stealth met in a home-and-home series to wrap up January, where the home team won in their respective arenas.
“We really focused on getting back on track and playing the game plan Pat Coyle and the rest of the coaches put in place for us,” said Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward earlier this week. “I think we just came out here, executed well and we frustrated a very talented Minnesota team.”
Jeremy Noble made an NLL debut for the ages in that contest. The second overall pick in this year’s draft registered seven points (2+5) after being acquired by Colorado late last week, earning the league’s Pinty’s Wingman award for Week 11.
Coach Chris Gill was impressed to say the least regarding the 23-year-old’s quick chemistry on the Mammoth’s veteran offense, and hopes that blending will continue to meld as the stretch for the postseason begins.
“As coaches, we weren’t sure what to expect,” Gill commented. “We knew he was a good player, but didn’t know exactly what he was going to bring. At the end of the day, we’re super excited of what he can do on the floor.”
Shifting to the Stealth, two completely different rosters came out of the Mammoth locker room in those two matchups according to goaltender Dillon Ward, who combined for 54 saves across both meetings.
“It was a tale of two games,” said Ward. “The first one we came out, we couldn’t seem to miss, and the second one we laid an egg. It just wasn’t one of our best games. With how log jammed the West [Division] is right now we have to come with the mentality to try and get two wins.”
The Mammoth currently sit a half game behind the Rush for the top spot in the West. Ward will be key in both games alongside the defense in keeping Rhys Duch and Joel McCready at bay. Duch currently leads the Stealth in points (57), while McCready has registered six goals against the Mammoth the last two games.
John Grant Jr. leads Colorado in points (58), and only needs two more to tie and pass Colin Doyle for second in all-time points in the NLL, after passing Shawn Williams in Week 11 for fourth in all-time assists.
Bob Snider meanwhile is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday after missing Colorado’s game versus Minnesota due to flu-like symptoms. Four players took faceoffs in the specialist’s absence going 9-for-24.
Saturday is BC Lacrosse Association Night (BCLA) where the Stealth will be wearing special edition BCLA jerseys which fans will be able to bid on before and during the game.
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) & Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.