Stealth Begin Championship Defense with 'Mammoth' Win: NLL Week 1 Recap

Ron KnabenbauerCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2011

Colorado's Brian Langtry (right) dives past Washington's Chris McElroy (center) and trys to put the ball past goalie Matt Roic (left) during Jan. 8 game at the Pepsi Center in Denver (Credit: Michael Martin).
Colorado's Brian Langtry (right) dives past Washington's Chris McElroy (center) and trys to put the ball past goalie Matt Roic (left) during Jan. 8 game at the Pepsi Center in Denver (Credit: Michael Martin).

DENVER—The Washington Stealth proved why their penalty kill was the best in the league in 2010 and still is in 2011.

With the game tied at 10 and Colorado having the momentum after just scoring two goals, the Mammoth had a three-minute power play to close out regulation and to begin overtime.

“I think it is just one of those things that you are prepared for and if you are well prepared, you execute to the best of your capabilities,” said Washington head coach Chris Hall on being down a man late in the game. “I think we are prepared for those situations and those guys have been through those situations last year on our way to a championship. It is not the position you want to be in but if you are well prepared then I think you execute the strategies and you hope for the best.”

The Stealth’s defense weathered the storm and soon had their own power-play chance after the Mammoth took two penalties to give Washington a 5-on-3 advantage nearly five minutes into overtime.

Rhys Duch scored 10 seconds into the power-play opportunity to give the Stealth the 11-10 win on Saturday night in front of 17,029 in attendance at the Pepsi Center.

Duch and Jeff Zywicki both finished with three goals apiece for Washington.

Last season, Zywicki scored 11 goals and 15 assists in four games against Colorado and in the first game of this season, he didn’t waste any time picking up where he left off, scoring the first goal 6:31 into the contest.

Zywicki added another goal, this time on the power play, 41 seconds into the second quarter while he scored his third of the night late in the third stanza. He also added two assists as well.

"The atmosphere of playing at the Pepsi Center," Zywicki said, "can motivate any player, even from the visiting team.”

“It is a great place to play,” Zywicki said. “They pack the house, they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they hate us and we love to be hated. We come in and we get fired up I think just as much as Colorado does by the loud crowd and the silence when we score a goal.

“Silencing 16,000 people is almost as fun as making 16,000 people stand on their feet and scream.”

Though Colorado’s home building might be one reason why Zywicki has come to be known as a Mammoth killer, Hall said the reason why he thinks he is a special player in these games is because he rises to the occasion.

“I think he is a great big-game player,” Hall said of Zywicki. “When you come to this building, it is what pro athletes dream of. They dream of walking onto the floor in front of a packed house and showing what they can do.”

Zywicki and the rest of the Stealth will have a bull’s-eye on their back for the rest of the season as they expect 15 more tough games like the one they played against the Mammoth on opening night.

“We have to come out and expect a game like this every single week,” Zywicki said. “They are going to be tight games; they are going to be coming at us hard. We won’t be able to blow out teams like last year because everybody will be gunning for us. We have to do what we did today. We have to weather the storm.”

Hall said with his team being the defending NLL champs, that won’t only motivate opposing squads, but he hopes his own team as well.

“We are the bench mark, we are the target and if teams can beat us then it motivates them that they can beat arguably the best team in the league,” Hall said. “I think that is enough motivation for us knowing that there is never going to be an easy night in this league. There never is anyways but certainly when you are the champions, people are sitting in the locker room saying, ‘We’re playing the champions of last year. We think we are good enough to beat them and being champions ourselves, let’s go prove it.’ I think that is enough motivation for us to say, ‘No, we like the cup and we aim to keep it ourselves.’”

After going 0-8 at home last season, the Mammoth wanted to prove that they could beat the champions and contend for the Champions Cup this year. They brought in NLL All-Star John Grant Jr. in the offseason to help try and prove that.

Grant, who many believe may be the best NLL player ever, had played 10 seasons in the league with the Rochester Knighthawks. However as he was standing in the Pepsi Center tunnel waiting to be introduced during pregame, he felt like a rookie all over again.

“I felt like I was 21 years old and it was my first game,” Grant said of his pregame feelings. “I moved to Denver on Wednesday and I don’t think I’ve slept since.”

Unfortunately, Grant’s first game with the Mammoth didn’t begin on a high note.

Already down 2-1 late in the first quarter, Colorado pulled goaltender Chris Levis for the extra attacker for the final few ticks of the stanza. However as Levis was running to the bench, Grant turned the ball over in the Stealth end and Washington’s Mike Grimes picked it up. Grimes went coast-to-coast with it and tossed the rubber into the gaping Mammoth net with 12 second remaining.

Grant’s mistake gave the Stealth some early momentum going into the second quarter in which they capitalized two more times in the first three minutes of the new period, extending their lead to 5-1.

However Colorado traded for Grant to score goals and the newcomer did just that. Grant made up for his mistake, scoring twice in a matter of 1:11 late in the first half to bring some momentum back to the home team’s side of the floor.

Like Zywicki, Grant had been a Mammoth killer in the past while with Rochester, but he gave the Colorado fans a glimpse of the talent he could do for their team as he did a behind-the-back shot from about 10 feet out for his first goal in a Mammoth uniform with 6:27 left in the half.

Brian Langtry scored with 2:18 left in the half to cut the Stealth lead down to one at the intermission.

Colorado and Washington swapped goals to start the second half, until Grant struck again—twice.

At 6:34 into the quarter, Grant’s hat trick goal was similar to his first one, but this time he did a behind-the-back shot a little closer, at the top of the Stealth’s crease.

Two minutes later, he struck again, but on the weirdest of shots. Grant’s shot went off of Stealth goaltender Matt Roik and then took a Mammoth bounce off of Mike Grimes’ helmet and into the back of the net. The goal gave Colorado their first lead of the game.

Grant also added three assists in the contest.

The Stealth bounced back though, with Tom Johnson and Zywicki both scoring in the final two minutes to give Washington back the advantage.

Mike McLellan scored for the Mammoth midway through the fourth quarter, but his goal was sandwiched between two Stealth scores, giving Washington a two-goal lead late.

Colorado responded late as McLellan scored with 4:34 left to make it a one-goal game and then Cliff Smith received a behind-the-back pass from Grant and walked to the top of the crease where he buried the ball for the game-tying goal.

With the momentum on the Mammoth’s side, it seemed as they were destined to beat the defending champions after receiving a late power-play chance.

But Washington’s defense held strong and the Colorado power play couldn’t capitalize on the chance to end the game.

“I thought we were a little tight and we were a little tentative,” Grant said of the team’s power play late in the contest. “We didn’t do what we normally do. It was the same power play as it would have been in the first two minutes of the game. We have to remember that every shift is the same no matter what time in the game it is.”

Colorado’s unsuccessful power play and Washington’s success with the man advantage proved to be the difference as Duch scored with the extra attacker 5:11 into overtime to end the game.

Washington’s Lewis Ratcliff, the NLL Champions Cup MVP from a year ago, and Colorado’s Jamie Shewchuk, the team-leading scorer last season, didn’t find the back of the net in the game. But they did find their way onto the score sheet as both players finished with four assists.

Colorado’s next game will be on Saturday when they head north of the border to play West rival, the Calgary Roughnecks, at 9:30 p.m. EST at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Washington will host Minnesota next week.

Toronto Rocks Edmonton at Home

The Toronto Rock began their 2011 season the way they hoped to end their 2010 campaign: with a win.

In a matchup of two Canadian teams, a big second half and some solid defense helped last season NLL runner up defeat the Edmonton Rush 13-7 on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Bob Watson made 36 saves in net and Stephan Leblanc scored three goals for the Rock. Ryan Ward led the Rush in scoring with two goals and an assist.

“Toronto’s a tough place to play,” Ward said. “We didn’t execute or capitalize on our chances. We got to have more effort, execute better and play with a little more jam and grit.”

Next Saturday, Toronto will travel to Rochester to face the Knighthawks while the Rush will stay out east to take on the Boston Blazers.

Sawyer Victorious in Coaching Debut as Boston Tops Philadelphia

In his first game as head coach, Matt Sawyer’s debut was a successful one.

Sawyer and his Boston Blazers defeated the Philadelphia Wings 10-6 on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

“We gutted that one out, but sometimes those are the prettiest,” Sawyer said after the contest. “We didn’t have our game going tonight. Clearly our defense and goaltending led the way. It was a team effort top to bottom.”

Boston’s Casey Powell had five goals and two assists in the game while teammate Dan Dawson finished with eight assists. Alex Turner had two goals and one assist for Philly while Athan Iannucci and Drew Westervelt both had one goal and two assists.

The Blazers next face the Rush while the Wings host the Buffalo Bandits next Saturday.

Knighthawks on Point, Get OT Win in Minnesota

Craig Point scored the game-winning goal three minutes into overtime to give the new-look and revamped Rochester Knighthawks the 11-10 victory over the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Matt Vinc earned his first win as a Knighthawk goalie, making 30 saves, while 2010 first overall pick Cody Jamieson scored twice.

Point led Rochester in scoring with three goals and one assist while Andrew Watt led Minnesota with three goals and one assist as well.

Minnesota will travel to Washington to play the Stealth next week while the Knighthawks will host the Toronto Rock.

Roughnecks Spoil Kelusky’s Return

Calgary welcomed home longtime captain and current Buffalo Bandit Tracey Kelusky on Saturday, but they sent him and his current team packing with a season-opening loss as the Roughnecks defeated the Bandits 10-9 on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.

Scott Ranger scored five first-half goals and Mike Poulin made 38 saves in net for Calgary while Roger Vyse led Buffalo in the score department with two goals and four assists.

Kelusky finished with one goal and three assists.

The Bandits will play in Philadelphia next Saturday while the Roughnecks will travel to the Pacific Northwest tomorrow to play the Washington Stealth.

Stealth Raise Championship Banner, Host Roughnecks Sunday

The Washington Stealth raised their 2010 NLL Champions Cup banner into the rafters of Comcast Arena in Everett, Washington on Sunday. Unfortunately the Calgary Roughnecks were invited to spoil the celebration.

Scott Ranger scored the game winning goal with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter to help Calgary defeat Washington 13-11 to ruin the Stealth's party in front of 5,364 in attendance.

Jeff Shattler and Dane Dobbie both had three goals and one assist for the Roughnecks while Lewis Ratcliff led the Stealth in scoring with four goals and two assists.

Calgary will host Colorado next Saturday while Washington will host Minnesota.