Stealth Edge Defending Champion Rochester in NLL Opener

EVERETT, Wash. -- The Washington Stealth emerged back on the NLL scene Saturday night delivering a gritty performance in taking down the defending league champion Rochester Knighthawks, 13-12, before 7,023 at Comcast Arena in Everett.

In the 2013 NLL regular-season opener, the Stealth put 64 shots on Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc while pushing past seven ties and a five-goal Knighthawks second to put coach Chris Hall's squad in position to win the game.

For Hall and his squad, freshly retooled after a demanding pre season, the opener had the feel of a team coming into its own at the mid-season mark.

"The intensity was high but the performance level was crisp. Some of the goals that were being scored and the things that were happening certainly looked like mid season form stuff," said Hall.

The game winner came with 1:23 remaining on the clock as forward Athan Iannucci broke free on an isolation play and connected on a nifty feed from Rhys Duch and Cliff Smith to put Stealth ahead for good. Following a mandatory review, the goal was ruled good and the Stealth needed only to kill the remaining time on the clock to seal the victory.

"The play was an iso for me out of the corner and there was an extra guy at the net so once I went down low I had so much momentum that I just split right through the middle of them," said Iannucci.

Smith, who scored three goals on the night -- all in the first half, and five assists for a career high eight points to lead all scoring, figured prominently alongside Ratcliff and Iannucci in keeping pace with the Knighthawks.

"Most of the doubles and the pressure is going to those guys, so it definitely helps playing with those three," said Smith.

The Stealth opened scoring just 1:46 into the contest on a Duch goal fed by Kyle Buchanan. Following a Rochester score at the 8:57 mark, the Stealth opened up a 3-1 lead on scores by Matt Beers and Smith.

In the second Rochester began working its way back into contention on a pair of goals that knotted the game at 3-3.

Despite an inability to move into the lead since 6:13 of the second when Scott Campbell lifted Rochester into a 3-3 tie, the Stealth maintained their composure while chasing the Knighthawks goal for goal deep into the fourth.

In the second half, the "big three" for the Stealth (Duch, Ratcliff and Iannucci) combined to score four of the team's five goals in the final stanza.

Duch finished the game with three goals and three assists for six points.

With his assist on Iannucci's game winner, Duch marked his 350th career point in 63 games all coming as a member of the Stealth. Ratcliff and Iannucci scored two apiece.

With 5:46 remaining, Washington's Mitch McMichael scored his first NLL goal, an unassisted bullet past Vinc, which briefly put the Stealth up 12-11.

"I was just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and pick up the ground ball and put it in the net," said McMichael of the momentum changer.

Rochester's Jonny Powless then knotted the game at 12-12 on a powerplay with just 1:53 remaining before Iannucci hit the winner.

For the Stealth, the defense was the key to helping goaltender Tyler Richards fend off a relentless Knighthawks attack that produced a respectable 47 shots on veteran Stealth keeper.

"We really dictated where their shots were coming from," said Richards. "We try to force them in our defensive system. I was really impressed."

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2013-01-06



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