The Saskatchewan Rush’s victory on Saturday night was doubly important to the team.
A 15-10 verdict over the Toronto Rock not only locked up first place in the NLL’s West Division for the two-time defending league champs, but also gifted Derek Keenan his 122nd victory to become the NLL’s all-time leader in coaching victories.
“It’s a nice milestone,” said Keenan. “I think in the second half we really eliminated the mistakes and were mentally and physically focused. We really played hard and I think we wore them down.
“We talked at halftime about needing a good third quarter and we played really well. We got them to chase us around and we made some nice plays.”
With the win, which came before a sold-out crowd of 15,045 at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, the Rush (11-5) earned a bye directly into the best-of-three West Final and rounded out their home schedule with a near-perfect 8-1 mark. Meanwhile, the loss prevented the Rock (8-9) from securing a playoff spot in the East Division.
“It’s a huge win. It’s awesome to clinch first but it’s more important that we got the 122nd win for Coach Keenan. It’s an honour to play for him,” said Tyler Carlson, the surprise starter in the Rush who racked up 40 saves.
Deadlocked 7-7 with the Rock at halftime, the Rush took over the game scoring five unanswered goals in the third quarter. Adam Jones broke the tie on a Rush power play as he cut through the slot and deftly put a scoop shot behind Toronto goalie Nick Rose. Ryan Keenan then put Saskatchewan up 9-7 when he unleashed a wicked long-range shot that found the net, and the Rush jumped ahead by three when Ben McIntosh’s sidearm shot beat Rose for his second of the night.
Jones tallied for the second time in the quarter when he scooted onto the turf, took a feed from Jeff Cornwall who had raced down the floor in transition, and put his shot in the net. Just 10 seconds later, rookie Matt Hossack scored his second of the game as he found success on a partial breakaway to make it 12-7. For Hossack, it was his fifth goal of the season on just five shots in four games.
Toronto finally ended the Rush’s run when Reid Reinholdt scored only 18 seconds into the fourth quarter and Brett Hickey followed shortly afterwards with his fourth of the game, but Saskatchewan responded to snuff out the comeback bid. Curtis Knight neatly dangled his way past a Toronto defender and whipped a shot behind Rose, and Mark Matthews rounded out a seven-point night with his third and fourth goals of the game. The Rush’s leading scorer snatched the rebound of a Robert Church shot and flicked into the top corner, and then tallied Saskatchewan’s fifth power-play marker of the night when he went in alone after a giveaway.
Church, who had two power-play goals in the first half, also finished the game with seven points. His second goal on the man-advantage came on a precision pass to the top of the crease from Ryan Keenan and only 18 seconds after Jesse Gamble had scored a shorthanded goal for the Rock. Matthews struck for a power-play marker in the first quarter with a well-placed low shot and counted his second of the night with a pinpoint strike to the short side.
Dan Taylor had Saskatchewan’s other goal on the night. The Rock, who were without Kasey Beirnes, also got two goals apiece from Dan Lintner and Tom Schreiber, while Rose totaled 34 saves.
Saskatchewan completes the regular season next weekend with road games in Colorado and Calgary, while Toronto treks to Buffalo.