Stealth's bid falls short as Rochester gets second straight Champions Cup
LANGLEY, British Columbia - The Washington Stealth's bid for a second Champions Cup in four years ran out of steam in the final minutes of Saturday's NLL Championship Game as the Rochester Knighthawks, led by All-Pro goaltender Matt Vinc, hung on for an 11-10 win to secure their second consecutive title before a sold-out Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Columbia.
For the 5,200 fans that packed Langley's arena for the first NLL title to be contested in British Columbia, the game proved to be a classic with Washington chasing Rochester throughout the night forcing three ties before the Knighthawks managed to hold down the Stealth and hang on for the win.
But in a game that rarely strayed beyond a one-goal margin, it was the Stealth's second-half defensive effort, holding Rochester to a single goal while scoring three of its own, that nearly forced a fourth tie and a bid for the title.
"You couldn't ask for a more exciting game," said Stealth head coach Chris Hall, whose squad hung with Rochester shot-for-shot putting 31 on Vinc in the first then tightened up its own defense in the second. "It was a great game to watch and was played by two awfully good teams," Hall said. "Both teams have known since the beginning of this week that it was likely going to be a one goal game today."
For Rochester, the title made NLL history, as the Knighthawks became the only team since the Toronto Rock in 2002 and 2003 to win back-to-back championships in the past decade.
Never leading in the contest that was played in just north of the U.S.-Canada border after the Stealth's home venue Comcast Arena was unavailable for the game, Washington answered an opening Cory Viterelli score just 3:16 into the game to tie it up at 1-1 on Rhys Duch's first of three just 40 seconds later.
"For Rhys to be able to play in this game was a monumental effort," said Hall who was unsure that the NLL regular-season goals champion and First Team All-Pro would be available after a deep Charlie Horse to his left quad in Washington's West Division win over Calgary last Saturday left him with less than 10 percent flexation in his leg early in the week.
Following a Cody Jamieson goal at the eight-minute-mark to put the Knighthawks up by one, the Stealth's Athan Iannucci again knotted the game at 2-2 before Dan Dawson ignited a three-goal run that put Rochester in the driver's seat with a 5-2 lead going into the second quarter.
"We started letting guys over the top," Hall said. "(Jamieson) got over the top a couple times on us in the first half and that's just a no-no for us," he said. "We made the adjustments and shut it down in the second half but we should have known a little better."
Jamieson would go on to score two of the next three to give the Knighthawks their largest lead of the night at 7-3 with 10:21 to go in the half before Washington made its presence known just a minute later.
Scoring his first of two on the night, Tyler Garrison ignited a four-goal Stealth run with a shot past Vinc that would eventually force the third tie of the night, this time 7-7 with 5:44 to go in the half on Cliff Smith's second. It was the second multi-goal game of Garrison's career.
But Rochester again came fighting back with three of its own on goals by Vitarelli, Johnny Powless and Craig Point to close-out the half with a 10-7 advantage.
"Three goals behind. We've made some great comebacks this year but our luck just ran out," said Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards who faced 49 Rochester shots - 31 in the first half. "We got away from what we are successful at, which is our defense."
In the third, Washington tightened up on the defensive end blanking Rochester 2-0 on Duch's third of the night at 11:31 and a Brett Bucktooth score at 9:05 to bring it to 10-9. It was Duch's 14th hat trick of the season and third in as many post-season games.
Following a Rochester score by Joe Walters just 2:14 into the fourth, Washington came back to outshoot the Knighthawks 11-8 but managed only a single goal at the 11:41 mark.
Garrison's goal brought the Stealth to within one, close enough where a score could have been a game changer.
"It was frantic," Duch said. "We were putting the ball on the net but when it comes down to crunch time you just do whatever you can to try and score a goal."
In the end, the goal never came, with Vinc coming up with one big save after another.
"It was the tale of two great goaltenders," Hall said, whose squad finished the year at 11-8. "Two great defenses and two great lacrosse teams, and in the end we had our chances to tie and get ahead and we didn't."
Brett Bucktooth led the Stealth with one goal and four assists for five points, while Duch had three goals and an assist.
For the Knighthawks, which finished the regular season 8-8 before getting hot in the playoffs, Jamieson netted three goals and two assists for five points, while Dan Dawson also had five points with a goal and four assists.
"In any sport the only team that can say their season was a success is the team that wins the championship," said Duch. "But I don't think our season should be considered a failure. A lot of positives came out of this year. To rebound (from a 4-12 season in 2012) and do what we did is pretty remarkable," he said. "It's very rare to see a team come from last place and then the next year lose the championship game by one."
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National Lacrosse League Stories from May 12, 2013
- Stealth's bid falls short as Rochester gets second straight Champions Cup - Washington Stealth
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