It was not the start they were looking for.
The 2016 National Lacrosse League season began for the Vancouver Stealth much like 2015 played out — surrendering more than the league average in goals while not capitalizing on nearly enough of their offensive chances.
The end result was a season-opening 17-7 loss to the visiting New England Black Wolves on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre in front of 4,230 fans.
Pat Saunders — who plays his summers at the LEC with the Langley Thunder in the Western Lacrosse Association — re-acquainted himself quite nicely in his summer home, setting a new career-high with nine points (4+5) in the victory.
New England also got big games from Shawn Evans (4+2), Kevin Crowley (1+5), Kevin Buchanan (1+4) and Kyle Buchanan (3+1).
“We don’t have just one guy,” Saunders said. “We don’t care who is scoring; we just move the ball and play as team.”
The first quarter was back and forth with the teams tied at three after 15 minutes.
But the Black Wolves took the lead for good in the second with three goals to open the period and they led 9-6 at the half.
The Stealth would cut the lead to two goals on Rhys Duch’s second goal but that would be the last shot to beat New England goalie Evan Kirk, who finished with 47 saves.
Duch finished with four points while new acquisition Garrett Billings had one goal and four assists.
“Their shots dropped and ours didn’t, that was the difference,” Billings said.
“Their goalie played amazing.”
The Black Wolves were also effective at getting their sticks on Stealth shots.
“We have a pretty athletic fence and that is one of the things we wanted to preach, we want to get our sticks in shooting lanes, we want to disrupt, we want to be active with our sticks,” said New England coach Glenn Clark.
“(And) we got some good looks and the balls dropped and Evan made some big saves.”
“We seemed slow out there tonight, we weren’t moving our feet,” said Stealth coach Dan Perreault.
“A lot of our shots were flatfooted shots and were hitting defenders.”
The coach also cited a lack of movement on offense.
Face-offs were dead even with each team winning 14 while the Stealth power-play was 3-for-5 compared to the Black Wolves 2-for-4. Loose balls also favoured Vancouver 24-17.
Eric Penney stopped 21 of 33 shots before giving way to Chris Levis, who stopped 17 of 22.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Pat Saunders
2) Shawn Evans
3) Garrett Billings
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat).