The sting of defeat was still fresh, but to a man, the Vancouver Stealth know they made strides in 2017.
The Stealth had just seen their late-game rally come up short, falling 13-12 to the Colorado Mammoth, on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre in National Lacrosse League playoff action.
The loss eliminated Vancouver from the post-season.
A big culprit in the Stealth’s loss? The fact they were playing catch-up.
Vancouver was behind the eight-ball from the early going, falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter. The Stealth would tie the game at six in the second quarter and again at seven and eight in the third quarter. But when all was said and done, they were only tied for 9:56 of the 60-minute of the contest.
Down by four in the fourth quarter with 6:51 to play, Corey Small scored three straight to pull his team within one with 71 seconds to play. But that would be as close as the team could get.
— NLL (@NLL) May 7, 2017
“It was a little bit too late, unfortunately,” said captain Curtis Hodgson. “I thought we responded better in the second half (but) unfortunately had too big of a hole to come back from and ran out of time.”
Hodgson said he told his teammates prior to the game how proud he was of them.
“We were challenged since day one to improve the work ethic and culture with this team and the guys responded to every challenge.”
The Stealth had a great start to 2017 winning their first two games. But a five-game losing streak followed and the team was 3-6 at the midway point of the season. Vancouver responded with six wins in their final nine games, including winning their final three to finish not only at .500, but in second place in the West Division and earning the right to host the one-game playoff.
Saturday’s crowd of 4,011 was the largest at the LEC in 2017.
“I think we got some excitement with lacrosse at the LEC,” Hodgson said.
Not much was expected of the team in 2017, according to outsider predictions.
“At the start of the year, everyone picked us to be at the bottom of the league and out of the playoffs,” said Small, who cemented his case for at least an MVP nomination following a six-goal performance against the Mammoth.
Small set career highs in goals (46), assists (65) and points (111). The latter also tied the Stealth franchise record.
“We proved a lot of people wrong,” he said.
The team was much more competitive under Jamie Batley, who took over partway through the 2016 campaign.
And with a full off-season under his belt, he was able to mould the team more to his liking, one that was more aggressive and faster on the back-end and in transition.
“I thought we made great strides,” he said. “When the dust settles in a week or so, everyone will have a good feeling about the season we had and build on it for next year.”
For Vancouver to take the next step, they likely will have to go via the trade or free agent route as they do not have a pick until the third round of the 2017 draft.
General manager Doug Locker was able to acquire goaltender Tye Belanger ahead of this past season for Mitch McMichael. Belanger led the league with a .796 save percentage while going 7-7 in the regular season. He was also fourth in goals against average at 11.28.