What a fantastic start to the National Lacrosse League season. Washington’s 13-12 nailbiter over the defending champion Knighthawks was fast, intense and exciting. Don’t expect things to slow down any time soon with the rest of the league’s teams set to kick off their schedules this weekend. Even though there was only one game, there were plenty of performances worthy of 3-Star recognition. One of the big stories of 2012 was the impact of rookies on the big stage. While Rochester had only one (Jamie Batson, who spent part of last season on the practice squad and got into one game), the Stealth had enough freshman for two teams, and they all played as though they’d been there before. Many of the usual suspects also had good games in the season opener. The best of the weekend are honoured after the jump.
Cliff Smith, Washington Stealth
3 goals, 5 assists
The Stealth needed to add left-handed depth at forward. The ideal candidate would be a big body who can bang, can go inside and doesn’t need the ball in his stick a lot, so he can fit in well with the big three of Iannucci, Ratcliff and Duch. Saturday night the 6′3”, 200-pound Smith scored three times on just six shots, showed he is confident in his return from injury by driving hard to the net, and generally did everything you’d want him to do. He matched his 2012 goal total in the first half and beat his seven total points from last year in the game. A picture-perfect season debut that helped the Stealth get their bounceback season off on the right foot.
Joe Walters, Rochester Knighthawks
2 goals, 2 assists
On a team with a wealth of forwards, Walters continued to show that he’s ready for prime time. Anyone who’s worried about how well the Knighthawks will share the ball has to be comforted by the way Walters was able to play such a big role in the Rochester offence. Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson are both bigger stars and no doubt will control the ball plenty this season, but the champs play a team game and that shone through in how important the often-overlooked Walters was to their flow Saturday.
Athan Iannucci, Washington Stealth
There were so many candidates that it’s hard to hand third star to an offensive player who took 10 shots and only scored two points. But the second of his goals was the game-winner and it was vintage Nooch. Driving from the boards to the net between two defenders, Iannucci protected the ball brilliantly in one hand, got his stick free and other hand back on the shaft, avoided (barely) landing in the crease and buried a goal that virtually no one else on the planet would be able to score.
Rhys Duch (Washington): 3g, 3a. Geez, only one game on the weekend, Duch scores six points and he doesn’t even earn a star. Just the way it is in today’s NLL, but Duch was his usual excellent self for the Stealth…Johnny Powless (Rochester): 2g, 3a. Great line by Stealth colour commentator Kevin Alexander about Powless’ display of skill Saturday, noting that the young lefty did as much with behind-the-back passes and shots in the game as he did on his forehand…Jeff Moleski (Washington): 1a, 7lb, 2FT. Moleski is a largely unheralded veteran defender who brings a lunch-bucket mentality to the unenviable task of trying to contain the starry array of shooters in the NLL. He did it particularly well Saturday and grabbed a mittful of loose balls as well…Cory Vitarelli (Rochester): 3 g. Smith was efficient. Vitarelli was phenomenally so, scoring three times on just four shots. When he’s getting chances, Vitarelli makes scoring look easy. It’s not; he’s just very good at finishing…Matt Vinc (Rochester): 51 saves, .797 save percentage. Kept the Knighthawks in a game in which they were outshot in every quarter and easily could have lost by more. Made the saves he’s supposed to make and forced the Stealth to hit precise spots to score…Washington Stealth rookies: Mitch McMichael was a factor in transition all night and his first NLL goal was a huge one, giving the Stealth a 12-11 lead. Kyle Buchanan had four assists and didn’t look anything like a sixth-round draft pick in his first game in the league. Tyler Garrison showed why the Stealth were so keen to get him. One play was typical of his impact. Garrison stayed with his man till the perfect moment to slide down for a double team, found his check again and recovered his position to take away a relief pass by the man he had doubled. Already looks comfortable in the pro game. Tim Henderson was quietly effective and looks like he’s making the transition from shutdown field defender to solid indoor defender quickly…Joel McCready (Rochester): 1a, 6lb, 2FT. After a year off because of firefighter training, McCready had a good summer with Langley and didn’t miss beat returning to the NLL. He fills a good chunk of the void left by his uncle Pat’s retirement.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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