In what can only be described as the most exciting game of the year, the Saskatchewan Rush become the first team to leave Halifax with a victory, winning 16–15 in overtime.
The first three quarters of play tonight were all Rush. Early in the 1st, goals from Ben McIntosh, Ryan Keenan, and Matthew Dinsdale gave Saskatchewan an early 4 goal lead. Excessive penalties by the Thunderbirds gave the Rush many opportunities, and with an offense as dangerous as theirs, they capitalized.
Evan Kirk was unbeatable between the pipes as Halifax’s offense tried to get something sparked. It wasn’t until nearly 18 minutes had gone by that the Thunderbirds got on the board when Graeme Hossack scored in transition.
The defensive woes continued, however, and the Rush scored three more from Ryan Keenan, Chris Corbeil, and Ryan Dilks to extend their lead to 7–1. With the Thunderbirds offense nowhere to be found and a defense that couldn’t match the strength of the Rush attack, the game seemed to be getting out of hand very early on.
To end the 2nd quarter, Austin Shanks stepped up for Halifax, trying to revive the offense. He scored twice in 16 seconds, giving a glimmer of hope as the half ended, now only down 4.
Hoping to build some momentum in the second half, the Thunderbirds would need to come out strong in the 3rd. The Rush, conversely, kept their pressure coming. Justin Robinson made the game 8–3 just 4 minutes into the half, followed quickly by Ryan Keenan’s 3rd goal of the night.
A goaltender change for the Thunderbirds showed Pete Dubenski his first action this season, and it would definitely take some getting used to. 3 more goals from Saskatchewan stretched the lead to 12–3. Robert Church scored twice in a row, and Ben McIntosh netted his 3rd of the game, as well.
Halifax was not going to roll over, and Ryan Benesch snuck two goals in, and the captain Cody Jamieson stung the corner, too. 3 straight goals for the Thunderbirds could have been the push they needed to get something going, but Mark Matthews answered on a highlight reel goal with 29 seconds remaining in the 3rd. This could have been the nail in the coffin, but a costly penalty with 5 seconds on the clock gave the T-Birds an opportunity to move in closer. Jamieson found Benesch right away and with 3.9 seconds left on the clock, the game was now 13–7 and the Thunderbirds were gaining momentum.
After 45 sloppy minutes of lacrosse by Halifax on both ends of the field, the 4th quarter might as well have started an entirely new game for the Thunderbirds. An early McIntosh tally for the Rush gave them their 14th goal of the night, but Halifax kept pushing. A Halifax faceoff win allowed Scott Campbell to get on the board, and Pete Dubenski settled in, making big saves when he was needed most.
Now down 14–8, the offense needed to get something going. Austin Shanks kept firing and he found the back of the net twice in under a minute. A slash by the Rush defense gave Halifax another chance to score, and the rookie Clarke Pettersoncapitalized on a feed from Benesch. Dubenski proved to be more than capable in net, and after an incredible save, found Luc Magnan who connected with Scott Campbell to bring what was once a 9 goal lead down to 2.
Robert Church finally ended the Thunderbirds run with just 3:16 remaining in the game to extend the lead back to 3, but the elite goal-scoring ability of Cody Jamieson couldn’t be stopped. Ryan Benesch hit the captain just 9 seconds after the Rush goal, and then Jamieson took one more all by himself to bring the game within 1.
Under 30 seconds left, down by 1, who would step up? Who else but Austin Shanks. Jamieson found the sharpshooter and he tied the game up at 15 with 25.6 left on the clock. With the dominant Jake Withers facing off, the Thunderbirds found themselves in a position of control for the first time this game.
A faceoff win gave Halifax a chance. The offense circled and the ball found its way back to Shanks who unloaded a shot as time expired that beat Evan Kirk, but couldn’t beat the crossbar, and to overtime we would go.
And what a wild overtime it was. The Thunderbird’s first possession started and ended exactly how you would want it to, with the ball in Cody Jamieson’s stick. A tough dodge and a gritty fight to maintain possession found the captain on the doorstep. A shot and a goal ended the game! But the referees said otherwise as he shot just a second too late and the shot clock expired. The goal was called back.
As crazy as it may sound, that was not the only goal taken off the board in overtime. The Rush fought hard and kept possession as the Thunderbird defense was unrelenting. Ben McIntosh collected a loose ball on the crease and finished it, but not before stepping in the crease, waiving off yet another goal. The game would continue.
It would take a third overtime goal to officially end the game, and after Evan Kirk made one final save, Chris Corbeil found Mike Messenger who dove for the final goal. 16–15, Saskatchewan.
The win for the Rush proved them to be one of the best teams in the NLL, becoming the first team to travel to Halifax and leave victorious. “We just battled through,” said Mark Matthews postgame. “We really needed something like this to build momentum going forward.”
For Halifax, losing two straight games now may be the humbling experience they needed after opening the season 6–0. This did, however, prove that even on an off night they still are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Scoring most of their goals in the final quarter shows that they can never truly be out of a game until the final whistle blows.
“Obviously, it was great to see what we’re capable of, but it’s the second week in a row that we let ourselves get down by so much and then try to come back,” said Cody Jamieson. “When we want to play and turn it on, we are capable of scoring goals in bunches, but that has to be our first, second, third quarter mentality, and not just the fourth.”
The Thunderbirds fall to 6–2 on the season and will look to get revenge on the Toronto Rock on Friday in Halifax after losing to them on the road in their previous game. That game can facesoff at 7pm AST/6pm EST on Friday, February 21st and can be seen on B/R Live.