Often highly anticipated sporting events fail to live up to the hype. That wasn’t Game 2 of the 2017 Champion’s Cup final. The Georgia Swarm and Saskatchewan Rush not only exceeded expectations of two top seeds battling for the ultimate prize, they turned the action into an Oscar winning Hollywood drama.
It was truly lacrosse heaven.
This emotional roller coaster showcased everything great about the National Lacrosse League. Multiple lead changes, sensational goals, hard hitting defense, stellar goaltending, tears of joy and heartbreak.
Here are a few of my takeaways after handling the play-by-play duties of this masterpiece from SaskTel Centre.
Thompson, Thompson and Thompson
This regular season and the Champion’s Cup was no doubt highlighted by the Thompson brothers. Lyle led the Swarm to becoming the most prolific scoring team in NLL history with a league best 116-points and was a buzzsaw in Game 2 of the final, delivering seven points. No. 4 took home the MVP trophy as well.
Watching Lyle work together alongside brother Miles was art in motion. Miles’ overtime winning goal brought the franchise its first title and it was only fitting that Lyle had the assist.
On the other side of the floor for Saskatchewan was Jeremy, the eldest of the Thompson boys. One of the finest draw men in the NLL, Jeremy was a beast in the faceoff circle all evening. His endless hustle and play creation displayed the inspirational heart that is Thompson lacrosse. He also scored a pivotal goal with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter and then made the initial empty net save as only seconds remained in regulation (more on that below).
Honor, respect, and passion beamed out from the siblings following the OT winner. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Lyle’s post-game press conference make sure to go to www.NLL.com and check it out. His raw emotion and eloquence was a cherry on the sundae that was this series.
Build Through the Draft
There’s something to be said about a club developing its own talent and growing a specific culture. Patience, talented scouting, and a bit of luck all go into a philosophy of building through the draft.
If there was any question to whether this strategy works in the National Lacrosse League, one needs to look no further than the pair of teams with the best records in 2017. They also happen to have just appeared in one of the most exciting Champion’s Cup matchups of all-time.
Georgia gathered a bounty of 15 first-round draft picks over the past five years and oh my has it paid off.
Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson, Jason Noble, Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson, Alex Crepinsek, and Randy Staats are a few of the names that lay the foundation for this Swarm organization.
The Rush’s core is a rare combination of youth with championship experience. Their first rounders since 2012 included three number one overall selections: Mark Matthews; Ben McIntosh; and Ryan Keenan. Mike Messenger, Robert Church, and Curtis Knight are other impact players that went in the opening round.
The last 10-seconds of the fourth quarter will go down as one of the wildest finishes that the NLL has ever seen. Trailing 14-13, Georgia pulled the goalie for the extra attacker…then the Rush yanked their net-minder to even it up at 6-on-6.
Things of course didn’t work out as planned for the home team as Joel White buried the ball into an empty cage, despite the best efforts of Jeremy Thompson, with 2.8-seconds left to force overtime.
Social media exploded, questioning the decision of Saskatchewan head coach Derek Keenan to risk an open net with the lead. My broadcast partner Brian Shanahan gave the perfect explanation behind the decision.
Crowds and Class
I’ve had the privilege to call the past pair of Champion’s Cup finishes at SaskTel Centre. The Saskatoon fan enthusiasm and deafening noise in that arena create an atmosphere unlike anything else I have experienced in my broadcasting career.
It was super booster “Grandma Rush’s” 86th birthday last Saturday. Even in defeat the energy she brought and love for her team shone through. Shanny and I were lucky enough to get a picture with her following the game.
Despite a vicious battle on the floor during the series, both franchises showed complete class from top to bottom after the OT finish. Players, coaches and ownership demonstrated legitimate respect and admiration of the efforts put forth as they are now linked forever in National Lacrosse League playoff history.
Andy McNamara has been a play-by-play commentator for the NLL on TSN, NLLTV.com, and world lacrosse tournaments since 2011. He’s also a sport talk host and anchor on TSN 1050 sports radio. Follow Andy on twitter @AndyMc81.