With their playoff lives hanging by a thread, Cliff Smith nearly went from hero to goat in the span of five minutes.
Smith scored two of his team’s final three goals to give the Vancouver Stealth a much-needed 13-12 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night in National Lacrosse League action at the Langley Events Centre.
Smith tied the score at 11 and after Jordan Durston made it 12-11, Smith scored again to give the Stealth a two-goal cushion with less than seven minutes to play.
But Smith was then called for a five-minute major high sticking penalty with 2:34 to play, giving Calgary a huge opportunity to tie or win the game.
A Roughnecks victory would have eliminated the Stealth from post-season contention but all Calgary could muster on the man advantage was a goal with 6.2 seconds to play to pull within one.
On the ensuing face-off, Vancouver’s Jarrett Toll was able to tie up Tyler Burton long enough to prevent Calgary from gaining possession.
The win improved the Stealth to 4-11 while Calgary fell to 7-10.
The Roughnecks do not play until the final day of the NLL season. The Stealth need to win their final three games and if Calgary loses their finale, both teams would be 7-11 but Vancouver would finish higher thanks to a better divisional record.
Smith said he almost couldn’t watch from the penalty box and was relieved his teammates bailed him out, admitting had Calgary come back with him in the box, that would have crushed him.
As for his goals, Smith was happy to contribute, especially as he transitions from his traditional offensive role he held in year’s past to this year and playing a defensive role.
“(The goals) were pretty big because it kind of made up for some defensive mistakes earlier,” Smith said.
“This kind of cancelled them out.”
Smith said he is learning his new role, which has him coming out of the back door on the bench. And in the past couple of games, he has played cautiously as he learns the nuances of his new role. But as he gets more comfortable, Smith has been able to take more chances.
And Smith’s two goals, as well as a breakaway maker from Ian Hawksbee — all three of which came in transition — were huge in the victory.
“That was really the difference in the game in my opinion,” said Stealth coach Jamie Batley, who picked up his first win since taking over behind the bench five games ago.
“Those are the things we haven’t been getting, transition goals. Everything else usually equals out.”
He pointed out that the week before, Calgary out-scored Vancouver 7-1 in transition in the Roughnecks 16-12 victory.
In addition to the transition goals, the Stealth got hat tricks from Logan Schuss (three goals, seven points) and Jordan Durston (three goals, four points) while Rhys Duch had another big game with two goals and eight points. Corey Small chipped in with two goals and a helper.
Tyler Richards came up with 42 saves for the victory, including 16 in the first quarter alone when Calgary controlled much of the play.
“They were a few desperation moments,” he said.
“When you are having a game, you get them and when you are not, they seem to go flying past you.”
“I seemed to get lucky more often than not.”
“He stood on his head tonight,” Batley said, adding this was the best game he has seen Richards play this season. “He did a great job of anticipating.”
Up next for the Stealth is the season’s final home game, a date against the West Division-leading Saskatchewan Rush (12-4). Game time is 7 p.m. at the LEC.
“Now we believe in ourselves,” Batley said. “It is hard to believe in yourself when you are losing.”