The Saskatchewan Rush have earned the right to defend their Champion’s Cup crown as they advanced to the National Lacrosse League final after beating the Calgary Roughnecks 12-9 on Saturday night to sweep the West Finals, 2-0.
Saskatchewan will meet the Buffalo Bandits – a matchup of the regular season’s top two teams – in the best-of-three Champion’s Cup after the Bandits completed a sweep of the East Division Finals with a 20-15 victory over the New England Black Wolves earlier on Saturday. Game 1 of the Champion’s Cup takes place Saturday, May 28 in Buffalo with Game 2 slated for Saturday, June 4 in Saskatoon. If Game 3 is necessary, it will be held Saturday, June 11 back in Buffalo.
Buffalo won the only meeting of the regular season between the two teams, slipping past the Rush 19-18 in overtime back on February 26.
The Rush, who captured their first NLL title last season with a sweep of the Toronto Rock in the Champion’s Cup Final, engineered a dominant fourth quarter against Calgary to take over Game 2 and wrap up the series before a record crowd of 15,192 – the largest turnout to an event ever at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
After a Calgary goal cut the Saskatchewan lead to 8-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Rush took off and scored four consecutive goals to pull away from their heated rivals. Zack Greer made it 9-6 when he was spotted all alone in front of the net by Jarrett Davis. The play was set up when Rush forward Ben McIntosh crashed into two Calgary defenders in the corner to force a turnover and keep the Saskatchewan offence on the floor.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Mark Matthews made it 10-6 just eight seconds after the Greer goal. Matthews took a feed from Nik Bilic and whipped a shot past Roughnecks goalie Mike Poulin. Greer was back for more and made it 11-6 as he cut into the slot and gunned a shot to the top corner. Less than two minutes later, Greer completed a fourth-quarter hat trick and registered his fourth goal of the game to put Saskatchewan ahead 12-6.
Utilizing an extra attacker, Calgary cut into the Rush lead with three goals in the dying moments but the six-goal cushion was far too much for the Roughnecks to overcome.
Despite the two teams’ potent offensive units, the game got off to a defensive-minded start. Robert Church opened the scoring on a Rush power play before Tyler Digby answered with his first of four on the night for Calgary and the two teams left the first quarter behind tied 1-1.
Greer and Matthews scored 25 seconds apart less than two minutes into the second quarter to put Saskatchewan up 3-1. Calgary got one back before Church notched his second power-play goal of the game when he took a pass from Greer and his quick release found the back of the net. Again, Calgary answered, this time on the power play, but the Rush restored their two-goal lead and entered halftime up 5-3. Church grabbed a pass near the front of the Calgary net, drew two defenders to him, and tossed a pass to McIntosh who fired the ball past the goaltender.
Saskatchewan’s transition game paced them to three goals in the third quarter. Matthews fired a pass across the goal-mouth to John Lafontaine who rarely gets to flash his offensive skills but he did just that by quick-sticking a shot to the short side to make it 6-3. Defenseman Jeff Cornwall was the man behind the next Rush goal as he started the play with a blocked shot. The speedy Cornwall scooped up the ball, darted down the floor and then delivered a pass to McIntosh who tucked a low shot behind Poulin. The Rush continued to make Calgary pay in transition and made it 8-4 when Adrian Sorichetti turned on the jets, zoomed to the net, and picked the far corner with his shot.
Matthews topped the Rush scoring with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) with Greer totaling six points (4 goals, 2 assists). Rush goalie,Aaron Bold finished with 39 saves as he anchored a Saskatchewan defense that held Roughnecks’ record-setting scorer Curtis Dickson to just one goal on the night.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Aaron Bold
2) Zack Greer
3) Jeff Cornwall
Story by SaskRush.com. Photo by Josh Schaefer.