They are hoping it is not too late, but the Vancouver Stealth are finally gaining momentum.
For the first time all season, the Stealth have won back-to-back games, accomplishing the feat with a wire-to-wire victory on Saturday night in the team’s National Lacrosse League home finale, a 14-12 win over the visiting Saskatchewan Rush at the Langley Events Centre.
The win improved the Stealth to 5-11 while Saskatchewan fell to 12-5.
The Rush were hoping to lock down first place overall in the nine-team league with a win while the Stealth are still clinging to hope of a post-season berth.
The team needs to win their final two games this weekend — on the road in Colorado and Georgia — while hoping Calgary (7-11) loses their finale.
Saturday’s victory was the team’s most complete effort of the season as they led from the outset.
Less than two minutes into the contest, defender Chris O’Dougherty took the pass from goaltender Tyler Richards and instead of setting up the ball for the offence, O’Dougherty drove to the net to open the scoring, his first goal of the year.
The Stealth would lead 4-1 after one, 8-4 at the half and 11-7 after three quarters.
The Rush made a charge in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to one with less than two minutes to play. But Joel McCready’s fourth goal of the game snuffed out any comeback attempt.
“Our effort was there, We played hard right from the very beginning, we played our style,” said Vancouver coach Jamie Batley, who improved to 2-3 since taking over behind the Stealth bench last month.
“There is accountability, we established that early. When you go on the floor, you can’t just go helter skelter, you have to play a system, within that system and you are responsible for that system.”
The offence was led by Logan Schuss (four goals, four assists), McCready (four goals, two assists), Rhys Duch (two goals, six assists) and Corey Small (two goals, three assists). Garrett Billings also returned to the line-up after a five-game absence with a goal and five assists.
“I was happy to be able to come back and contribute. It was killing me being on the sidelines,” Billings said.
But most important was the fact the team got the win.
“Simplest way to describe it is do-or-die and we came up with a win to keep our season alive against a really good team,” he said.
The Stealth won the season series two games to one against the Rush, the defending NLL champions.
“It is a mental thing, you play this game to play against the best,” O’Dougherty said.
“As an athlete, you step up and want to punch the best guys in the face. It is kind of fun to play against the best, I always thrive off that.”
“They were a little hungrier than us. They had a lot more to play for than we did,” said Rush coach Derek Keenan.
“They played pretty desperate and we didn’t play as hard as we can.”
Saskatchewan is the only team in the league with four players who have 30 or more goals on the season. And while the Rush were missing leading goal scorer Zack Greer, they still boasted plenty of weapons.
“Anyone on that offence can score. It is pick your poison with them,” O’Dougherty said.
Mark Matthews led the Rush attack with five goals and seven points, including a hat trick in the fourth quarter as they tried to rally.
“Our systems are starting to come together, we are starting to play more aggressive,” O’Dougherty said, singling out Ian Hawksbee, Curtis Hodgson and the team’s other veteran defenders in helping keep the Rush in check.
“(And) T-Rich is settling in and we are actually giving him shots that he is capable of saving.”
Another difference has been the return of Rory Smith to the defence. He missed the first 14 games of the season with injury but the team is 2-0 with him in the line-up.
“We all know Rory adds a tough element to the defence,” Batley said.
“I know other teams look at that. They got their eye open, ‘when’s Rory sliding, when’s Rory going to hit me, because he hits hard’. He plays the game very hard.”
“I don’t know if it is a coincidence or not, but our defence is better with Rory in the line-up.”
Vancouver still faces a tall task, having to win twice on the weekend while Toronto (5-12) also beats Calgary.
Colorado (11-6) is locked into second-place in the NLL West Division regardless of what happens this weekend but the Georgia Swarm (7-10) are also playing for their playoff lives. The Swarm will qualify for the playoffs with a victory.
“If we bring the intensity level we have right now, we are going to be a hard team to beat,” Billings said.
Stealth owner Denise Watkins had pledged to donate $5,000 to the Lacrosse on the Move Fund if the game was a sell out. And while the LEC was short of a capacity crowd, she did donate $4,400 — $1 dollar for every fan in attendance that night.
Earlier in the game, Watkins and Stealth general manager Doug Locker also presented a cheque for $31,448 to the Lacrosse on the Move Fund.
The money was from 50/50 draws throughout the season.
The fund is to help minor lacrosse teams around the province cover costs to attend provincials, as well as for athletes heading off to nationals.