Saturday night in the NLL season opener, a late goal by Athan Iannucci pushed the Washington Stealth past the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks by a final score of 13-12.
In a game that was expected to be tight, neither team led by more than two goals at any point.
Washington set the tone early when Rhys Duch put one past Rochester's Matt Vinc less than two minutes in. With a lot of back-and-forth momentum shifts in the first half, the game wound up deadlocked at the break with a score of 6-6.
The back-and-forth would continue through the second half, with both teams holding leads at one point or another.
When Knighthawks lefty Johnny Powless scored a spectacular behind-the-back goal to tie the game with less than two minutes to play, it looked like the game was headed to overtime. But 30 seconds later, Iannucci got the ball on the doorstep and tucked the game-winner behind Vinc while tiptoeing around the crease.
The big story on the night was game MVP Cliff Smith, who scored a hat trick for the Stealth in the first half and finished the game with a career-high eight points. If Smith can produce at anywhere near this level for the rest of the year, he will add a big boost to an offense that already features three elite scorers in Duch, Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff.
"Clutch" Duch added three goals and three assists to the winning cause.
Also of note for the Stealth was the performance of Bob Snider in the faceoff circle.
Snider's 16 wins and 57.1 percent success rate were shockingly low for him, underscoring just how good he is at that skill and how high the standard is that he set for himself last season, when he broke the single-season record for faceoff wins with 319.
The Knighthawks were paced by Powless and Cody Jamieson, who each contributed five points.
Former NLL MVP Casey Powell was a scratch for the season opener with the flu. A healthy Powell might have provided enough extra firepower to push Rochester over the top, so there is likely no cause to panic about their season just yet.
The win is a big deal for Washington, however. After finishing with the worst record in the NLL last year, it was setting out to make a statement on its home floor, and it accomplished just that.
Playing in front of 7,203 fans—their second-best crowd in team history—the Stealth showed that they can not only compete with the defending Champion's Cup winners, but they can beat them. That should give them confidence and momentum gong into next weekend's game in Denver against the Colorado Mammoth.
Rochester, meanwhile, has a bye week to regroup and get Powell healthy before hosting Buffalo on Jan 19.
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