Season-long struggles haunt Stealth during debut season in Langley

The Vancouver Stealth’s season went sideways quite early, and with three games to go in it, Langley’s pro lacrosse team is still trying to straighten itself out.

The Stealth started their inaugural National Lacrosse League campaign decently enough with a 2-2 record, but arguably the tipping point came way back on Jan. 25 at the Langley Events Centre, when the Stealth held a commanding 7-2 halftime lead on the West Division-leading Edmonton Rush.

In that game, the Rush proceeded to outscore the Stealth 7-1 in the second half to win 9-8.

The Stealth – who relocated to Langley from Everett, Wash. during the summer, marking pro lacrosse’s return to B.C. after a decade-long absence – never seemed to recover from that epic collapse on their home floor.

The Rush have since rolled to a 15-1 record, while the Stealth (4-11) struggled mightily, losing eight of their next 10 contests.

“I remember walking off the floor with one of our assistant coaches and saying, ‘Man, I really hope that isn’t a season-defining loss for us,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall recalled. “Psychologically, that was a big loss and then we started running into injuries.”

The Stealth – who have played in three of the past four NLL title games, beating the Toronto Rock for the Champion’s Cup in 2010 – will now need the lacrosse planets to align perfectly if they hope to qualify for the post-season.

The Stealth will need to win their final three games of the season, starting with this Saturday’s home date with the Philadelphia Wings, and hope that the 6-10 Colorado Mammoth drop their final two of the campaign.

This somewhat unlikely scenario would leapfrog the Stealth past the Mammoth and into the final playoff spot in the West Division.

If this occurs, and with the NLL’s “one-and-done” single elimination playoff format, anything can happen in the post-season.

But a realist would say it’s highly unlikely that the Stealth will make it there.

Personnel changes and injuries have put the Stealth in this tough spot. During the first month of the season, they were missing key right-hander and power play point man Brett Bucktooth, who was out with a sports hernia.

Then they lost captain Kyle Sorensen, who underwent arthroscopic surgery, and defender Chris O’Dougherty, who was also placed on the IR.

Adding to the difficulties was a one-game suspension levied to its top sniper Rhys Duch.

Even missing as few as two key players from a roster can be the difference between winning and losing in the ultra-competitive NLL, and that’s a challenge the Stealth have struggled with all season.

“In this league there’s a very fine line between winning games and losing games by a very small margin,” Hall said. “It doesn’t take much for games to go either way on you. With guys missing from our lineup, it’s one of those things that got going and continued to snowball. We’re able to get one piece back and then another piece disappears. It’s been frustrating, a long struggle, and even now we can’t get ourselves out of the hole.”

Four of the Stealth’s 11 losses have been by one goal, and the inability to come out on top of close games has stung the team this season.

So has their offensive struggles.

Last Saturday, the Stealth fell 10-7 to the host Rochester Knighthawks in a rematch of the 2013 Champion’s Cup final played at the LEC.

“We played an outstanding defensive game in Rochester on Saturday night but we couldn’t muster more than seven goals,” Hall lamented. “That’s a major factor. You can’t win too many games

in this league when you can only muster seven goals. Somewhere along the line we have to find some goal-scorers. That’s been a fact for us, is scoring goals.”

The latest of the walking wounded is goaltender Tyler Richards, who missed the Knighthawks game with an injury.

“It was a must-win game and we were without our No. 1 goalie,” Hall said.

Richards’ status for this Saturday’s game against the Wings is up in the air.

BACKBREAKING LOSS

Last Saturday at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY, the Stealth got off to a perfect start with back-to-back goals from Sorensen and Cliff Smith.

That lead wouldn’t last long, as the Knighthawks responded with three unanswered goals of their own to take a 3-2 lead after the opening quarter.

The second quarter was all Stealth, as they came out firing, outshooting the Knighthawks 16-6 and scored the only two goals in the quarter.

At the half, the Stealth held a 4-3 advantage and had outshot their opponents 29-13.

In the second half the Stealth continued to pepper Rochester’s goaltender, Matt Vinc, but he just wouldn’t crack.

Vinc made a total of 40 saves in the game and was named the first star. Vinc also held the Stealth off the scoresheet in the third quarter, as the Stealth’s momentum began to fade.

The Stealth pushed back a little bit in the fourth but it seemed with each goal they scored the Knighthawks had an answer.

Again the Stealth struggled to score goals in the second half, getting outscored 7-3 in the third and fourth quarters. The Stealth’s offensive woes have plagued them for most of the season and Saturday was a similar story.

They also came up against a goalie in Vinc, who looked to be on the top of his game.

In the end, the Stealth’s shot at redemption for last year’s Champions Cup final loss to the Knighthawks fell just short.

The Stealth are now facing another must-win situation, this time against the Wings. Saturday’s game at the LEC gets underway at 7 p.m.

For details on upcoming games and 2015 season tickets visit www.StealthLAX.com.

Stealth 2015 season tickets are on sale now, starting at just $99 plus fees. Buy or renew before April 19 and receive priority access to 2014 Grey Cup tickets. You’ll also be entered into a draw for a chance to win a trip for two to a Stealth road game in a Canadian city next season.

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