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Champs Return To Form

By Scott Zerr/NLL.com Correspondent

Photo by Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush/GetMyPhoto.ca

The Saskatchewan Rush picked up their first win of the 2017 National Lacrosse League season as they delighted a sold-out crowd of 15,007 at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon by whipping the Rochester Knighthawks 16-8 on Saturday night.

Moments after their 2016 Champion’s Cup banner was raised to the ceiling, the two-time reigning NLL champions put together a terrific performance that helped to erase their sluggish 0-2 start to the season. Mark Matthews paced the Rush with an 11-point outing (4 goals, 7 assists) while Ben McIntosh and Robert Church each posted hat tricks.

Saskatchewan jumped out to a fast start, scoring three goals in the first three minutes of the game, including Matthews’ first of the night as he darted past a Rochester defender, drove to the net and beat Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc with a high shot. McIntosh’s first of the night made it 4-1 before the first quarter was over as he took a feed at the edge of the crease and quick-sticked a release that beat Vinc.

The Rush went on a tear in the second quarter, putting five into the Rochester net. Matthews sent a bullet pass to the front of the net where McIntosh grabbed it and tucked a shot inside the post to make it 5-1. After Jeff Cornwall’s unassisted fast-break goal, Matthews put the Rush up 7-2 when he took a pass from Nik Bilic and rifled a shot short side behind Vinc. First-overall draft pick Ryan Keenan made it 8-2 on a pass from Matthews before McIntosh flashed his quick release once more before the half ended as he tallied on the power play with under two seconds to play.

Rochester, which won three NLL titles in a row prior to the Rush’s back-to-back championships, put some pressure on the Rush in the third quarter and cut into the lead a couple of times, but Saskatchewan’s special teams re-ignited the home side. Church fired a low shot into the net on the power play, and just over a minute later, Rush captain Chris Corbeil took off on a breakaway and went high with a shot for a shorthanded tally to put his team up 11-4. Matthews let loose a cannon that found the net to make it 12-5, and Church capped the third quarter with his 100th career goal. The league’s leading power-play shooter snared a pass, stepped back from a defender, and fired in a shot with three seconds to go in the third and the Rush went up 13-6 with another goal on the man-advantage.

Ryan Dilks, the NLL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, showed his offensive talents as he stroked a side-arm shot behind a Vinc to put Saskatchewan ahead 14-7 early in the fourth. The Rush rounded out the scoring with two more power-play goals to finish the night 6-for-8 on the man-advantage. Matthews, anchored up high on the power-play formation, walked into the slot and gunned his fourth of the game home, and Church followed shortly afterwards with his hat-trick goal during a five-minute power play.

McIntosh (3 goals, 3 assists) and Church (3 goals, 2 assists) were key catalysts throughout the game for the Rush attack. Curtis Knight and Marty Dinsdale also scored for Saskatchewan, which fired 53 shots at the Rochester net. Following a rough outing in last weekend’s loss in Toronto, Rush goalie Aaron Bold, who was last season’s Champion’s Cup MVP, returned to form as he made 38 saves.

The Rush are back to work this coming Friday when they host the Vancouver Stealth.