The fans were still in a festive mood despite a loss by the home side. Gary Ahuja Langley Times

Rush too much for Stealth

First quarter struggles a continuing concerning trend for Stealth after 16-9 loss at Langley Events Centre

A game is 60 minutes long, but so far this season, the Vancouver Stealth have put themselves behind the eight-ball in the opening quarter and not been able to recover.

The most recent example of this was Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre as the Stealth fell 16-9 to the Saskatchewan Rush in National Lacrosse League action.

Saskatchewan improved to 8-1 while Vancouver fell to 1-8.

Following the jersey retirement ceremony of former Stealth captain Curtis Hodgson, the Rush raced out to a 6-0 lead and never looked back.

It continued a troubling trend this season.

In Vancouver’s nine games, they have been outscored 42-15 in the first quarters, a goal differential of -27. By comparison, none of the other eight NLL teams are worse than -7 in the opening 15 minutes.

Corey Small said the players are looking for answers.

“If you are putting yourself in a hole against any team in this league, it is tough to dig out of it,” he said.

“That is what has caused us to play that helter-skelter, un-smart lacrosse. We are trying to force things when we are down, taking shots we wouldn’t normally take.”

“We are not giving ourselves a fair chance when we are down five goals early.”

Stealth head coach Jamie Batley says the team has tried different things, switching up their preparation and pre-game tendencies in hopes of snapping the habit.

“Maybe we are gripping our sticks and afraid to make mistakes and we are not playing with an edge in the first quarter,” he said.

“We can’t play to lose the first and that is what we are doing. We are nervous, we don’t want to make mistakes, you can’t play like that.

“You need to play on the edge and if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. I don’t mind if guys make mistakes if they are trying to do something constructive.”

It is similar to last season when Vancouver lost their first four games and Batley talked about how it was weighing on the players’ minds.

Once they finally won at the LEC, the Stealth won three of their next four home games to finish the regular season with a 4-5 home record.

Saskatchewan led 6-0 after one quarter and 11-3 at the half.

Vancouver played the Rush even in the third quarter with both teams getting three goals and then won the fourth by a 3-2 score.

The Rush were led by their multi-faceted attack as four players had two or more goals and nine had two or more points. Robert Church (three goals, five assists), Curtis Knight (four goals, one assist), Ben McIntosh (three goals, one assist), Mark Matthews (two goals, two assists), Jeff Shattler (one goal, three assists) and Matthew Dinsdale (one goal, three assists) led the way offensively. Chris Corbell and Matt Hossack had a goal apiece and Ryan Keenan had four assists.

Logan Schuss led the Stealth with two goals and two assist, while recent acquisition Pat Saunders made his Stealth debut with a goal and three helpers. Brandon Clelland, James Rahe, Tony Malcom, Cliff Smith and Tyson Roe each had one goal. Roe’s goal was his first career NLL marker.

Small had three assists but failed to find the back of the net for a second straight contest and he has now gone goal-less in four of the nine games this season.

It is a troubling trend for both Small and Duch, who was held to a single assist.

In 2016 and 2017, Duch scored 86 goals and Small was right behind with 83.

And last season, Duch scored in all 17 games he played while Small only had one game out of 18 where he didn’t register at least one goal.

But with the pair struggling in 2018 — Small has 13 goals and Duch six and both have not scored in four of the nine games — the Stealth are averaging just 10 goals a game.

“Some bad habits, not moving our feet and making the defence work off ball, and when we are getting out shots, we are not hitting them. They are hitting the goalie a lot in the centre mass, in the stick, instead of along the pipes,” Small said.

“It is definitely not a lack of effort because you can see guys coming off the floor and they are dog tired. It is working smart rather than working hard.”

Small was at a loss for why the offence has struggled.

“This team has always been notorious for putting the ball in the net so it has been a weird shift this season where we are struggling to get 10 goals a game.

“In this league, 13, 14 is that magic number — if as an offence you aren’t scoring above 10, you don’t have a shot to win in this league.”

“We need myself and Duch to get going over here. We have to look in the mirror and watch some more film and see what we are doing wrong.”

The Stealth are back in action on Feb. 16 as they visit the Calgary Roughnecks (3-5).

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Rhys Duch was held goal-less in his team’s 16-9 loss. Gary Ahuja Langley Times

Vancouver’s Corey Small and the Stealth offence continued to struggle during a 16-9 loss to the Saskatchewan Rush on Feb. 10 at the Langley Events Centre. Gary Ahuja Langley Times

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