A critical call in the fourth quarter of a tie game proved to be the undoing of the struggling Vancouver Stealth.
The Stealth were hosting the Toronto Rock in a battle of teams with identical 3-9 records in National Lacrosse League action on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre.
But with the score tied at 11 and less than nine minutes to play, the Stealth’s Joel McCready took a five-minute major penalty for fighting — he also got two minutes for instigating and a game misconduct — while the Rock’s Jeff Gilbert received a minor penalty for roughing.
And on the ensuing power play, Toronto scored twice and that proved to be the difference in a 13-11 Toronto victory.
McCready — who was unavailable after the game — was likely incensed after Gilbert caught him with his stick up high, bloodying the Vancouver player.
“There are only two refs out there so you can’t expect them to see everything,” said the Stealth’s Rhys Duch, who set two milestones in the game, reaching both 300 goals and 700 points for his NLL career. He remains one assist shy of 400.
“McCready is a guy that plays with a lot of passion, a lot of heart. His temper might have gotten the better of him.”
“It is just unfortunate to see a guy that works that hard take a cheap shot like that and feel the need to defend himself. The league will look at the hit to the head and react accordingly.”
Gilbert said that the hit was unintentional.
“I came up and truth be told, he was lunging forward, and I hit him in the shoulder. And when you are in that position, my stick rose up and got him in the chin. I didn’t realize he was cut open and I moved up in the play and he kind of jumped me from behind,” explained Gilbert after the game.
“Man to man, I don’t want to hit someone up high like that, but it happens.”
“I didn’t have a chance (to fight back), really. I was on the ground and the refs were in there. Plus, I don’t really want to go battle with a guy who is all cut up,” Gilbert said.
“I know Joel McCready is one tough lacrosse player and I do have a lot of respect for him. I hope he is OK.”
“That is a tough pill to swallow. But at the same time, we have talked about discipline. And this is the kind of sport where you have to be disciplined not matter what,” said Vancouver coach Jamie Batley, who said he has gone over this exact scenario with his players since taking over as head coach a few weeks ago.
“My expectation is that Joel sucks that up and doesn’t take five. And it’s a different game, different outcome. As a lacrosse player, we all know you have to take this.
“And unfortunately his temper got the best of him and (Toronto) capitalized.”
The Rock power play went five-for-seven and also had a short-handed goal.
In addition to winning the special teams battle, Toronto also controlled face-offs and loose balls, taking 20 of 28 draws and collecting 83 loose balls compared to 62 for Vancouver.
“We should beat this team. I thought we matched up really well against them,” Batley said. “(But) if you don’t have the ball it is obviously tough.”
Duch finished the game with three goals and seven points.
“It is nice. It means I am doing my job as an offensive player,” he said about his milestones.
“I would rather have 700 wins than 700 points.”
McCready (three goals, one assist), Thomas Hoggarth (two goals), Cliff Smith (one goal, one assist) and Justin Salt (one goal, one assist) rounded out the scoring.
Duch was more concerned that his team lost their sixth straight game.
“Feels like the same old story, finding ways to lose,” Duch said.
“They are always a little tougher when you feel like you deserved to win.”
“Just shooting ourselves in the foot seems to be a recurring theme in the past couple of weeks.”
The Stealth (3-10) are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, trailing the Calgary Roughnecks (6-9) by three and a half games for the last spot in the West Division.
The teams will play a home-and-home series, beginning this Saturday in Calgary.
Vancouver has five games remaining and can ill afford another loss.
“Our fate is in our own hands. We have to win the next two weekends, that is the bottom line,” Batley said.