Philadelphia Wings (3-4) host Edmonton Rush (5-0) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: John McCabe)
The undefeated Edmonton Rush (5-0) will visit the Philadelphia Wings (3-4, who are looking to rebound after Friday's 20-10 loss to the Toronto Rock, at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
As far as the Edmonton Rush may go in 2014, there's a pretty good chance they'll look all the way back to a game in late January for a sign of how far they've come as a team.
With the newly expanded 18-game regular-season schedule adopted this year, it won't necessarily be an easy thing to pinpoint when something good happened along the way. But last Saturday's dramatic victory over the two-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks is the kind of game the Rush can delve into as a good resource. The Rush's 8-7 overtime win was an important victory on many fronts.
The victory kept the Rush unbeaten so far in 2014, the league's only undefeated team as they head into this Saturday's road clash. The win was a big result in front of a home crowd which the Rush players have focused on this season, and it also was a critical result in a tight game.
"We have to learn to win these types of games. We need to win these," said Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan. "You look around the league, there's a lot of one-goal games and as a young team winning these games is part of the maturation process.
"It's take a while for us to get there but we're maturing and we're where we want to be right now. But it's still early in the season. We want to keep getting better and we're seeing things every week that we can still get better at."
The players are seeing their fruits of their labor and are loving the results. Yet they too know that it's a long way to the end result they truly want. The Rush came within a handful of goals of winning the Champion's Cup in 2012 and then fell well short of their target last season. They're also well aware that regular-season success doesn't mean a thing if you are ousted from the playoffs before reaching the final. The Rush's two playoff runs - 2012 and 2010 - came on the heels of mediocre regular-season outputs.
"We're excited about the win but at the same time we're trying to focus on being the best team in the league," said Rush forward Cory Conway. "That's something that doesn't happen during the regular season. We're working towards something special."
The Wings and the rest of the NLL aren't going to let the rising Rush have a free walk through the rest of the schedule. Paying a visit upon the Wings means the Rush are going to see some familiar faces in former teammates Brodie Merrill and Ryan Ward along with ex-Calgary Roughneck Tracey Kelusky.
That trio along with the rest of the Wings are going to try to knock the Rush off their league-leading perch and also spoil the evening for Keenan, who will make his 150th appearance behind an NLL bench on Saturday, becoming just the fifth coach in league history to reach that milestone.
"I guess it means I've been at it a long time," chuckled Keenan when informed of his coaching benchmark. "It's nice to be around that long and I've been fortunate to be involved in this great league for that long."
As for the Wings, the game offers an opportunity to see how they measure up to the league's hottest team.
“We feel the game Saturday is going to be a big test for us,” Wings head coach Blane Harrison said. “We’re playing probably the best team in the league right now. Starting with the goaltending, I think statistically (they have) the best goalie in the league right now, a defense that’s pretty special in its own right and (they have) six or seven guys that, when they swing the ball, everybody’s scoring. They’re putting up over 12 goals a game which is pretty good in this league so when you look at it on paper you go ‘wow, it’s going to be a pretty daunting task’ but we’ll come in and try to do our best and try to stay competitive.”
Although the Wings will be coming out after a game the night before, Wings defender Chad Wiedmaier feels that Philadelphia needs to be ready because it’s just as important of a game.
“There’s no excuses that we have a game before that in Toronto,” Wiedmaier said. “Every game is important so we just have to do everything we can to be in the greatest shape we can going into this weekend and do everything we can between both games to prepare for everything. So when the lights go on and the whistle blows, and you have to be ready to play.”
However, a competitive game isn’t all that’s in store for the spectators of the game. The Wings will be retiring the jersey number 66 of former player Jake Bergey who was the team’s second all-time leading scorer.
“It’s always nice to recognize those individuals that have contributed to the heritage of this organization,” Harrison said. “I’m fortunate to be a small piece of that in terms of at least being a spectator. I coached against Bergey and really appreciated the way he played and we’re trying to get some of the younger players to play like that and bring that kind of mentality and that kind of compete level. So we’re happy for him and we’re happy for the fans because he was a beloved one in the organization. It should be a special night.”
But honoring Bergey isn’t just about remembering a great player, as the current players are able to honor former players that provided them with the opportunity to play in such a competitive league.
“It really is a privilege,” Wiedmaier said. “You think about the guys that have built the league and made it what it is now and if you just take a step back from that for a second, you realize how fortunate you are to be playing the game you love in front of such a great franchise and the guys who played before you like Bergey, they’re the guys that paved the path and helped create the league into what it is today.”