Perfect is a rare word to use in the game of lacrosse, but the Thunderbirds home opener was the closest thing to it. The Halifax Thunderbirds soared past the other new team to the NLL, the New York Riptide, in a dominant 12-4 victory in the Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night.
A fast start was what the Thunderbirds wanted for the season and Jake Withers made that happen, scoring the first goal in Thunderbirds history 10 seconds into the game. From that point on, the first quarter was fueled by a relentless offense backed by strong defense.
Goals scored by Austin Shanks and Ryan Benesch gave the Thunderbirds a 4 to 0 lead early on due to great ball movement and transition plays. Brad Gillies added a goal in transition followed by a tally from Shanks to take the Thunderbirds into the 2nd quarter with a 7 to 0 lead.
As well as the offense played in the 1st, the goalie performance by Warren Hill was even better. Stopping every shot he faced and making acrobatic saves, Hill locked the defense down, building momentum for the offense to ride on the other end of the field.
Picking right up where they left off, Kyle Jackson added his first goal in the purple and orange 35 seconds into the 2nd quarter with a highlight reel dive. Eric Fannell made the game 9 to 1, while Warren Hill, Graeme Hossack, and the rest of the Thunderbirds defense commanded the other end of the field, holding New York to 2 goals in the first half.
“We’ve got the crowd behind us, and they’re allowing us to keep building,” said defensemen Scott Campbell at the end of the half. “They are some great fans and an awesome atmosphere.”
The Thunderbirds’ first half offense set the tempo for the rest of the game, outshooting the Riptide 28 to 15. While the scoring slowed after the first quarter, the shots remained steady and the ball movement, teamwork, and opportunities kept coming.
The second half for the Thunderbirds was defined on the defensive side of the field. Warren Hill stalled the Riptide offense, refusing to let the ball past him. Allowing only 1 goal in the 3rd with 1 second remaining, the defensive unit for the Thunderbirds showed that they are not to be messed with. The strong defense created scoring opportunities for the offense, but Alex Buque in net for New York rebounded after giving up 9 goals in the first half, posting a 3rd quarter shutout.
Moving into the final quarter, the defensive motifs remained. Both teams’ defensive units stood tall, not allowing a goal to come until the 7:26 mark. The quarter and a half scoring drought for the Thunderbirds was finally broken when Graeme Hossack fed Cory Becker on a fast break to make it 10 to 3. The floodgates for the Thunderbirds opened up after that, as Stephen Keogh tacked on 2 more goals, making the final score 12 to 4.
Jake Withers had a dominant performance at the face-off X while making plays all over the field, scoring the first goal in Halifax Thunderbird history.
“It was unbelievable. It was a big honor. It was kind of a broken play and Jamieson did a great job boxing out the lane there and I picked up the ball with speed, had some open space and thought to myself, ‘I gotta take this,’” said Withers.
The city of Halifax came out strong for their new professional lacrosse team with a packed arena, limitless energy, and a great environment for the growth of the game. From the opening ceremonies with a laser show and pyrotechnics, the crowd was hyped up. The energy the fans provided fueled the game, and the Thunderbirds gave them the show they deserved.
The Thunderbirds will look to keep the momentum going into their next game when they host the Rochester Knighthawks two weeks from now on December 21st at 7:00pm AST/6:00pm EST.