With eyes on the top spot in the West Division this weekend, the Saskatchewan Rush (11-4) made an early statement Friday night with a 11-5 victory over the Colorado Mammoth (10-5) in front of 11,544 fans in attendance in Denver.
The win places the Rush atop the West Division, the first home loss for the Mammoth this season, and the first leg in a critical home-and-home series between the two teams this weekend.
“It takes a little but of pressure going in to tomorrow,” Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan commented. “But we have a long road ahead. We get a win tomorrow night, obviously we know what happens: first in the West, but we want to continue to play well.”
Tonight’s win gives the Rush two wins out of three against the Mammoth thus far in the regular season. The win also gives Saskatchewan an edge in the division tie-breaker, with a 7-2 record in the West, versus 5-4 for Colorado.
Ben McIntosh led the Rush’s offense with five points (4+1), with Dan Taylor (0+4) close behind. Jarrett Davis, Mark Matthews and Zach Greer all posted three points (2+1).
Callum Crawford led the Mammoth with three points on the night, setting a career high 97 points in a single season. In addition, his lone assist was his 68th of the season, a new franchise record for most assists in a single season, formally held by former Mammoth captain Gavin Prout, who had 67 back in 2008.
Personal achievements were a backburner thought following the team’s worst offensive outing this season, and tying a franchise-low with five goals scored.
“Extremely disappointed,” Crawford said. “We need to forget about it though. Tomorrow we can get it all back if we get it up tomorrow. That’s the focus. Defense was great, goaltending was great. Our offense let us down tonight.”
The teams dueled it out on both sides of the floor throughout the opening frame. It wasn’t until the 1:30 mark of the first quarter before Saskatchewan’s McIntosh netted the game’s first score.
The late score began a four-goal run for the Rush stretching late into the half. With just over four minutes remaining in the half, Colorado got on the board with back-to-back scores by Mike Burke and Crawford, making the score 4-2 at the break.
Robert Church added an early third quarter goal for Saskatchewan, but Colorado would counter with two late scores by Crawford and John Grant Jr. to bring the home team within one heading into the final stanza. It would not remain that way for long, as the Rush put the game out of reach with six scores.
The keys to tonight’s victory according to Keenan: forcing Colorado out of their comfort zone and setting the pace of the game.
“We stuck with it, we grinded it out,” Keenan added. “It was a real physical, tough, low scoring game for most of the game. We had trouble putting the ball in the net early. I thought our defense and goaltending was outstanding all night long. Giving up five against the talent they have is huge.”
Aaron Bold, who held a league best 10.69 GAA coming into tonight’s game, allowed a season low five scores while stopping 40 of 45 in the process.
Dillon Ward returned to the lineup for Colorado, making 44 saves between the pipes.
The two teams will face each other tomorrow night at the Sasktel Centre, with opening faceoff set for 9:30 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Aaron Bold
2) Ben McIntosh
3) Dan Taylor
By Nick Salen for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.