Playing in front of a near capacity crowd, the Vancouver Stealth overcame some early-game jitters to pick up a victory in their home debut.
Rhys Duch, who paced the Stealth attack with two goals and an assist, said it wasn’t nerves, but rather excitement, which held the team back in the early going of their National Lacrosse League debut at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night.
“I think seven of our first eight possessions were turnovers,” said the team’s leading scorer from 2013.
“I can’t think of any excuse other than everyone was too excited.”
Duch scored the first two goals and the Stealth never looked back, improving to 1-1 with an 8-5 victory over the 0-2 Minnesota Swarm.
The game marked the long-awaited return of professional lacrosse to the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver Ravens last played in the NLL in 2004.
And the Stealth built upon a loud and boisterous crowd as 5,031 fans filled the LEC. The arena was at 95 per cent capacity for the game.
Ten members of the Stealth are from the Lower Mainland and 14 of the 20 players on the roster are from B.C.
“This is home for us,” said goaltender Tyler Richards, who was spectacular in stopping 45 of the shots he faced to earn first star honours.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Richards, who is from Port Coquitlam, estimated he had about 20 family and friends in attendance, while Duch — who is from Victoria — was going to go check how many people he knew had made it out to the game.
“I had a lot of family and friends in the stands, probably more than I even know,” Duch said.
Richards was happy the fans went home with a Stealth victory, especially after his play in a loss the week before to the Colorado Mammoth.
“It was important for us to come out this week and have a good one and keep everyone coming back,” Richards said.
“I did not want to start that way,” he said, explaining that he felt he had mental lapses and “a stinker” in goal in their first game of the season.
“But I felt good all week during practice and I knew I was going to have a good one.”
“I was happy to perform the way I did today; it was the best game I have had in a long time,” he added.
“The offence got going right off the bat and the way our defence played … I don’t care who we played, we were going to come out with a win.”
The Stealth led 3-1 after one quarter, 4-3 at the half, and 6-4 heading into the final quarter.
Tyler Digby and Lewis Ratcliff then gave the team some breathing room with fourth-quarter goals before the Swarm scored late for the 8-5 final score.
“Given that it was such a low-scoring game, once we got that four-goal gap, it gave us a little bit of sense of relief,” said Stealth coach Chris Hall.
In a game they only surrendered five goals, the coach said there was lots to like about his team’s performance.
“T-Rich (Richards) was fantastic tonight,” he said. “When Minnesota was coming at us in the fourth quarter, he was in the zone and it truly looked like nothing was going to get past him.”
The Swarm held a 50-33 advantage in shots on goal, but Hall was impressed with his team’s resolve in winning a lot of the battles and forcing 14 turnovers.
“Our defence played spectacular all game and we got some key goals at key times,” Hall added. “And Duch of course, was his usual tremendous self.”
Both teams scored once on the power play, but the Stealth’s Jeff Moleski added a short-handed goal to help his team win the special teams battle. Other Stealth goals came off the sticks of Mike Grimes, Cliff Smith, Cody Bremner, Tyler Digby and Lewis Ratcliff.
Kiel Matisz, with a pair, and Scott Jones, Josh Gillam and Callum Crawford, with one apiece, responded for the Swarm.
The players and coaching staff knew the atmosphere would be electric for the home opener, and also that there would be challenges associated with playing their first game at home.
“I think there was more pressure on us tonight because we wanted to put a good foot forward and open with a win,” Hall said.
“We had to answer the bell and I think we did it in spades.”
The Stealth are right back at it with a pair of games this weekend.
On Friday, they host the Colorado Mammoth (1-3) at the Langley Events Centre. The game begins at 8 p.m.
And on Saturday, the team hits the road for a game in Calgary against the Roughnecks (1-1).
Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Three-year-old Evan Catton and his father Rich were out at the Langley Events Centre for the home opener for the Vancouver Stealth. More than 5,000 fans attended the game as professional lacrosse returned to the Lower Mainland.