The Saskatchewan Rush captured their third National Lacrosse League title on Saturday night, capitalizing on four goals from Jeff Shattler to take Game 3 of the best-of-three series 15-10 over the Rochester Knighthawks.
For the Rush, the win was particularly sweet redemption after having their two-year reign atop the NLL come to a gut-wrenching conclusion last year as they lost the final to the Georgia Swarm especially losing the deciding Game 2 at home in overtime. But the Rush were determined to get back to the top and they rumbled through the regular season with a 14-4 record which earned them home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs. They wound up needing it and using it to their full advantage with a raucous crowd of 13,645 at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon watching the Rush hoist the newly minted NLL Cup.
“I’ve been waiting for this feeling for a while,” said Shattler, who was named the playoff MVP with eight goals – seven of which came over the final two games of the Cup series.
“We worked hard all season and we deserve it. We played well in front of this great crowd. I love playing in front of this crowd – the best fans in the league.”
Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan seconded the notion of his team deserving the title especially after being taken to the limit by the Knighthawks.
“It wasn’t easy but that makes it sweeter,” said Keenan, who now has earned three Cup wins as a head coach to go with three as an assistant coach and three as a player.
“I felt good about this opportunity to be at home for Game 3 and we took advantage of that. It was a grinder of a game, but I think we maybe had a little more gas in the tank. I really believe we earned this.
“We were focused from the first day of training camp on winning this championship. Mission accomplished.”
The Cup win is also a touch of revenge for the longest-serving members of the Rush – the entire group of defenders – who were beaten in a one-game title matchup for the league championship by Rochester six years ago.
“It feels like the same group from 2012, tweaks here and there, but it’s a really good group,” said Rush captain and defenceman Chris Corbeil.
Shattler ignited the Rush’s surge in the second half. The veteran and former league MVP potted his fourth goal of the game in the third quarter, slotting home a shot from in tight on a power play that tied the score at 8-8. That goal ended a three-goal run from the Knighthawks and lifted the Rush to a game-altering four-goal run of their own.
Just 27 seconds later, Corbeil rifled a breakaway shot home and Marty Dinsdale followed with a spectacular behind-the-back inside the far post to put Saskatchewan up 10-8. The Dinsdale goal came less than 20 seconds after a Rochester goal had been waved off and further cemented the Rush’s momentum swing.
The Knighthawks, who were striving for their fifth league title, didn’t go away in the fourth quarter. In fact, Rochester closed to within one on a slick shot by Eric Fannell followed by Josh Currier’s fourth goal of the night coming with just two seconds left on the shot clock. However, the Rush quickly recaptured the momentum and forged straight through the rest of the way.
Curtis Knight, a healthy scratch for Game 2 of the final, scored his second of the game as he stepped into the slot and put a heavy shot past Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc to make it 12-10. Just 42 seconds later, Ryan Keenan, who had set up one of Shattler’s earlier goal with a sensational backhand flip pass, connected for his second of the night with a quick release from the slot.
Marty Dinsdale put the Knighthawks further in debt with a well-placed bouncer from the wing to put the Rush up by four, and Corbeil finished things off with his hat-trick tally coming into an empty net.
Saskatchewan’s offensive outburst came after a painfully slow start, although they were turned aside by three goalposts in being held off the scoreboard in the first quarter. Shattler got the Rush going with his first of the night just 25 seconds into the second quarter, and he added his second with a terrific low-to-high sub shot to put Saskatchewan up 5-3. Shattler, who came over to Saskatchewan this past off-season in a free-agent move from Calgary, collected his hat trick on the first goal of the third quarter with another sharp sub shot that beat Vinc through the legs.
Mark Matthews, who set an NLL single-season assist record during the regular season, picked up eight assists in Game 3, while goaltender Evan Kirk, the Rush’s other key off-season acquisition started strong and finished with an even better showing in the fourth quarter. Kirk finished with 37 saves as outdueled Vinc, the five-time NLL Goaltender of the Year.
Along with Currier’s four goals, Rochester also got scoring via Cody Jamieson’s hat trick plus a single from Joe Resetarits and a shorthanded marker from Austin Shanks.