The Vancouver Stealthâ€™s debut at the Langley Events Centre had all the subtlety of a monster truck plowing into a fireworks factory.
That’s the desired effect of the spectacle that is a National Lacrosse League game.
A capacity crowd inside the LECâ€™s arena bowl soaked in the sounds of bombastic rock music and sights of energetic Stealth Bombers cheerleaders and ferocious pro lacrosse action as the Stealth made their NLL home debut a successful one, upending the visiting Minnesota Swarm 8-5.
â€œReally, it was a concerted effort right to the end,â€ Stealth head coach Chris Hall said, a few minutes after the game. â€œWe talked about not taking a shift off, we talked about focusing through every quarter.â€
With both teams staring down the barrel of 0-2 starts to their seasons, it was the Stealth earning their first win in franchise history.
â€œWe knew it was going to be a battle and it was a spirited battle right through,â€ Hall said. â€œItâ€™s not easy to win a game in this league and I thought Minnesota battled unbelievably hard, but I think our experience helped us in the end a little bit. Weâ€™ve been in these battles a lot and I think we just found a way to fight through it.â€
The Stealth brought pro lacrosse back to the Lower Mainland for the first time in 10 years, after relocating to Langley from Everett, Wash. over the summer. With this in mind, coming away with a victory on B.C. soil for the first time since 2004 had extra meaning to both the players and fans.
â€œIt was really important, obviously, to win our home opener and show the fans here that weâ€™ve got a great team and weâ€™ve got a team they can cheer for, and that is going to play hard for them,â€ Hall said.
Stealth sniper Rhys Duch scored the franchiseâ€™s first goal on its home carpet, one timing a feed from Lewis Ratcliff past Swarm goaltender Tyler Carlson 5:42 into the game.
â€œYou donâ€™t even think about things like that,â€ Duch said, about the significance of sniping the first home goal in Vancouver franchise history. â€œIt feels good to score any goal, right? It was a battle up to that point. It was good to get the team going.â€
Duch made it 2-0 at the 9:58 mark of the opening frame with a laser beam of a shot past Carlson.
The Stealth led throughout, but the Swarm didnâ€™t go down without a fight. Vancouver led 3-1 after the first quarter and 4-3 at halftime.
After three quarters it was 6-4 Stealth.
Vancouver put the game away with goals from Tyler Digby and Ratfcliff in the fourth quarter to take an insurmountable 8-4 lead.
The Swarm closed out the nightâ€™s scoring when Kiel Matisz put one past Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards late in the game.
Cody Bremner, Cliff Smith, Mike Grimes, and Jeff Moleski scored the other Stealth goals.
Duch said this was one of the toughest games heâ€™s played in during all of his years of lacrosse.
â€œI think that might have been one of the hardest-fought wins Iâ€™ve ever been a part of,â€ he said. â€œI took a look around our locker room afterwards and youâ€™d think weâ€™d lost with all the heads that were down, but I think we were just gassed. It was a three-goal win but it certainly didnâ€™t feel like it all the way down to the end, there.â€
Thereâ€™s no such thing as a â€œcomfortableâ€ lead in the NLL, something Duch emphasized.
â€œWe had two three-goal leads last game and we ended up losing,â€ Duch said, referring to the Stealthâ€™s 13-12 loss to the Colorado Mammoth on Jan. 4 to open the season. â€œYou can never get too comfortable.â€
While Duch finished the night with three points on two goals and an assist, the first star of the game was Richards, who put up a wall by making 45 saves to go with an eye-popping .900 save percentage.â€œHe was spectacular, he was in a groove,â€ Hall said, regarding Richards. â€œHe made stop, after stop, after stop and they got some quality shots. Sometimes you can just tell when goalies are in grooves; nothing seems to go in and they seem to stop everything. He was in the zone tonight.â€
Playing in front of a full house at the LEC was exciting for the head coach as well as his players, who had to rein in their emotions quite a bit, early on.
â€œI think early, we showed a little bit of nervousness, and it took a little while to get in [to the game],â€ Hall said. â€œWe knew that would probably happen. We talked about, once the adrenaline fades a little bitâ€¦ and you get a good sweat going and get into the rhythm of the game, youâ€™re going to be okay.â€
The Stealth will look for their second win of the season this Friday, Jan. 17 when they host the Mammoth at the LEC. Game time is 8 p.m.