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Back In The Saddle: Roughnecks Host Stealth

People around the National Lacrosse League may have been a little too quick to count out the Vancouver Stealth. The Stealth had a busy off-season, re-tooling their offense after finishing 2014 as the National Lacrosse League’s second-lowest scoring team.

And the team got off to a mediocre start as they won their opener, but then lost the next three contests. And new players — plus both a new head coach and offensive coach — means it may take some work for everyone to get on the same page.

“It just takes time,” said Joel McCready, one of the Stealth’s new acquisitions, who is third on the team with 11 goals in his first six games in a Vancouver uniform.

“You start to learn each other’s tendencies and what each person likes to do,” McCready said. “The more time we have together, the better we are going to click and the more we are going to learn what each other likes.”

And since its 16-13 victory over the Colorado Mammoth in Week 5, the Stealth have shown more patience, passing the ball around and finding the open man. The result has been back-to-back victories to pull the team to 3-3 on the season.

The most recent win was on Feb. 14 as they beat the Calgary Roughnecks 13-9 to drop their West Division rival to 0-6.

And the Stealth will look to bury the Roughnecks an even deeper hole as the two teams renew acquaintances on Saturday at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome at 9 p.m. ET. Tune in live on WatchESPN in the U.S. and TSN1, TSN3 and TSN GO in Canada.

The Stealth are fourth in the league with 13.3 goals per game. And the team is taking advantage of their opportunities at the offensive end. Despite averaging a league-low 44 shots per game — and having the worst face-off percentage at .375 — the team boasts an impressive .225 shooting percentage. They are one of just two teams in the league scoring on more than 20 per cent of their shots.

But despite stringing together back-to-back wins, head coach Dan Perreault knows there is still lots to do.

“We are happy that we put a couple of wins together, but at 3-3, we can’t be happy with that,” he said. “You are going to have to be a lot better than playing .500 ball.”

They also expect a big effort out of the Roughnecks.

“They are a good team,” McCready said. “In this league, on any given night, any team can win so we have to be ready every night.”

“Their crowd is going to be totally engaged,” added Perreault.

The Roughnecks return home to the Roughhouse this weekend to complete its home-and-home series with the Stealth. Calgary’s disappointing season continues after suffering its sixth straight loss in Vancouver last weekend to add to the worst start in team history.

Shawn Evans (2+3), Curtis Dickson (2+2) and Dane Dobbie (2+2) were the top players for the ‘Necks last weekend, while Rhys Duch (4+2), Corey Small (1+4) and Tyler Digby (2+3) lead their team in the win against Calgary.

“I thought Vancouver played as close to a complete game as you can,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “They had three 5-on-5 goals, three power-play goals, they had two 6-on-5 goals, three goals in transition, one empty netter, one of the draw and their goalie was 80%. That’s a pretty good recipe for success in the NLL.”

“Kudos to them,” Malawsky added. “They played well, we had a good start but weren’t able to sustain it and there’s things were going to continue to work on and continue to get better.”

After defeating Vancouver in all four contests last year, the Riggers have dropped two straight to the Stealth this season and have been outscored 31-23. Despite the bad record, Calgary has been in three 1-goal games this season and Malawsky still likes what he’s seen.

“Our compete level has been great,” Malawsky proclaimed. “Sometimes you get in the doldrums and you’re losing games and you just end up playing. Our guys aren’t just playing, they’re still competing and that’s the big part. There’s still a lot of fire there and the guys are still battling.”

After the Roughnecks started the season 0-3, people started talking. At 0-5, critics were wondering what was going on. Now at 0-6, everyone is wondering if Calgary can even make the playoffs, but the team still believes.

“Of course there’s a belief,” Malawsky explained. “We’ve got guys that are battling, we’ve got a lot of character in that room. What, do you expect us to roll over and die? No, we’re going to go to battle and we’re going to continue to battle.”

“This is an 18 game season, we’re six games in,” Malawsky continued. “We’re not having a pity party about the last six games that we played. We’re going to focus on the next 12 we’ve got to go, starting on Saturday night against a really good lacrosse team.”

Fifth-year Calgary transition and all-time faceoff wins leader, Geoff Snider has eight-points on the season and says the team will continue to stay the course.

“We’re preparing,” Snider said. “Nothing changes, we’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to be here to play.”

“There’s no one around the NLL feeling sorry for the Calgary Roughnecks,” Malawsky said. “Nor are the 23 guys we got feeling sorry for themselves, so we’re going to continue to prepare, continue to battle, continue to do things the right way and hopefully we get some honest results out of our honest efforts.”

By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) & Kassidy Collins (@RoughnecksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.