LANGLEY, B.C. -- The Vancouver Stealth picked up the win in front of a boisterous crowd Saturday, and it was veteran sniper Rhys Duch who ignited the fans as the National Lacrosse League returned to British Columbia.
Duch scored twice and had an assist as the Stealth defeated the Minnesota Swarm 8-5 in the first regular season NLL game in B.C. since 2004.
The Stealth moved to Langley from Everett, Wash., during the off-season, giving the province its first professional lacrosse team since the Vancouver Ravens folded 10 years ago.
Duch scored the first two goals of the night Saturday, electrifying the near-capacity crowd.
The Langley fans came out in droves to show their appreciation for their new club, which has made three of the past four NLL finals. When doors opened an hour before game time, the line-up snaked around the Langley Events Centre, which can seat about 5,200.
"We were in Colorado last weekend and there really wasn't much difference," said the Stealth's Tyler Richards. "Twelve-thousand there and 6,000 here. You can hear it in my voice -- I have nothing left because I had to scream over it."
The Stealth averaged 4,184 during their final season in Everett.
"The energy in the building, even in the warm ups, was great," said Duch. "It certainly a change from going into Denver where you're the most hated people on the planet. The crowd support was great and it was great to see the full building. It's super loud in here for how small the arena is."
Richards made 45 saves in the win, including many key stops early in the game while the Stealth seemed to be playing a little nervous.
"Even though it was a home game for us, there was a lot of pressure on us," said head coach Chris Hall. "We played nervous for the first five minutes but we managed to get the two early goals and that seemed to settle us down."
Richards was voted the game's first star.
"When he gets settled in there, he's probably one of the hardest goalies in the league to beat, in my opinion," said Duch.
Cody Bremner, Mike Grimes, Cliff Smith and Tyler Digby had a goal and an assist each, while Jeff Moleski and Lewis Ratcliff also scored for Vancouver (1-1), which was coming of a 13-12 loss to the Colorado Mammoth last weekend in the season opener.
Duch now has a team-high nine points in the first two games, though it was the timing of his goals that were essential for the club Saturday.
"Guys look to you to make plays when things aren't going right," said Duch, in his sixth year with the franchise. "The guys picked it up for me in the middle of the game when I was struggling. It feels good to get the team going, but they turn around and lift me up when I need it too."
Kiel Matisz had two goals and an assist to lead the visiting Swarm. Josh Gillam, Scott Jones and Callum Crawford also scored for Minnesota (0-2), which hadn't played since losing its season opener 8-6 in Rochester on Dec. 28. Tyler Carlson finished with 26 saves.
Duch scored the opening goal at 5:42, using a quick release from the slot to beat the netminder after taking a feed from Bremner. Duch made it 2-0 at 9:58, taking a pass from Alex Gajic before beating the goalie five-hole for the power-play goal.
Matisz got the visitors on the board, getting a shot over Richards' shoulder at 12:26.
The Stealth regained the two-goal cushion in the final minute of the first with Moleski scoring a short-handed goal.
Minnesota's Jones scored at 1:12 of the second, giving the rookie his first NLL goal. However, Vancouver's Grimes restored the two-goal lead just over a minute later.
Gillam drew the Swarm back to within one at 8:30 with a nifty move in close.
Smith scored at 3:46 of the third, giving Vancouver a 5-3 lead. However, a power-play goal by Crawford at 7:52 for the Swarm again cut the deficit to one.
Bremner gave the Stealth some momentum heading into the final quarter, scoring with 68 seconds left in the third to make it 6-4.
Digby then gave the Stealth their largest lead of the game, scoring at 2:09 of the fourth as he beat Carlson stick side. Ratcliff scored with less than four minutes left to make it 8-4.
"You're always trying to get separation and in this league it's probably three goals," said Hall. "But when we got that goal from Lewis Ratcliff, with a real good screen from Smith ... it gave us a little bit of a sense of relief."
Minnesota didn't give up, however. With the goaltender pulled, Matisz scored with 2:22 remaining, cutting the deficit back to three to cap the scoring.
With the home opener in the books, now the challenge will be to keep the seats full for the remaining eight home games, and for that it'll take more of the same.
"Keep winning. Especially in a city like Vancouver -- they like their winners," said Duch, a Victoria native. "And we're going out to sign autographs tonight. It's not a sport that sells itself, unfortunately, so we have to go out and sell it."
But regardless, the players loved the new setting since the team is loaded with 14 B.C.-born players, many from the Lower Mainland.
"I woke up late this morning for shoot around and I got to practice in 12 minutes," said Richards. "It's great."