Game 1 of the 2016 NLL Finals featured some of the most competitive, evenly-fought lacrosse the game has to offer with the Saskatchewan Rush now just one win away from a repeat while the Buffalo Bandits look to even the series and force a Game 3 back home. Preview Stephen Stamp’s Three Stars of the Week below to see which players came up big in the championship opener.
“Numerous studies suggest that the concept of the “clutch” player is a fallacy,” Stamp writes. “They almost uniformly find that a close statistical study shows that players simply perform the way they perform, and that their performance in high-pressure or decisive situations is just an off-shoot of what they normally do.”
But the eye test tells us that some guys just seem to come through at critical times, making big plays when they are most needed. Robert Church is one of those guys. Saskatchewan really needs a goal? Cue Church’s theme music because he’s probably going to find a way to get one. (Okay, I’m pretty sure Church doesn’t actually have theme music, but it would be pretty cool if he did).
Saturday night in Game 1 of the Champion’s Cup Finals was no different. Dhane Smith scored to open the second half and give the Bandits the lead? Church responded to tie it up. Ryan Benesch opened the third by giving Buffalo the lead yet again? Church to the rescue, scoring less than a minute later.
All of this is leading up to why a guy who doesn’t do much that’s flashy on a lacrosse floor and doesn’t get as much attention as he probably should is IL Indoor’s first star in the biggest game of the year so far.
Robert Church, Saskatchewan Rush
2 goals, 3 assists, 6 loose balls,
Church’s second goal, the one that tied the game at nine, was an excellent example of his elite scoring skill. Church didn’t flash in from the wing for a pass. He didn’t set a huge pick and roll off it. He simply walked in near the top of the crease and took small steps—forward, back, sideways—to counter every move the defenders made. Ultimately if left him open alone behind a pair of defenders through whose sticks Ben McIntosh was able to thread the ball to Church. His shot caught some of Anthony Cosmo’s jersey but trickled down his back and into the net. A goal-scorer’s goal, for sure.
Kyle Rubisch, Saskatchewan Rush
7 loose balls, 2 caused turnovers
Everyone knows that Dhane Smith is a critical focus of any defence facing the Buffalo Bandits. But keeping Ryan Benesch in check is just about as important. While much of the attention before and into Game 1 focused on how the Rush would deal with Smith, Rubisch was a key contributor across the defensive zone to holding Benesch to just two goals and one assist, well below his usual production. Rubisch, of course, did more than just help contain Benesch. He disrupted the Bandits’ timing and made them pay a price when they tried to go inside, as well as applying relentless pressure when he slipped out to the perimeter to harass a ball carrier. The Saskatchewan defence as a whole played well and Rubisch may have been the most consistently difficult for Buffalo to face.
Aaron Bold (Saskatchewan): 43/52, .827 save percentage. Bold is getting hot at exactly the right time for the Rush…Anthony Cosmo (Buffalo): 41/52, .788 save percentage. Cosmo was exceptional early, keeping the Rush from running away on Buffalo, and steady throughout. He gave up two more goals than Bold on the same number of shots but he faced more challenging chances…Jeff Cornwall (Saskatchewan): 1g, 7LB. Just another excellent all-around game from Cornwall, who my have been having a breakout season already but has left little doubt with his playoff performance…Ben McIntosh (Saskatchewan): 2g, 1a. Tied the game at 8, made a perfect pass to set Church up to tie it at 9, then scored the winner…Steve Priolo (Buffalo): 4LB, 3CTO. Playing like the back to back defender of the year finalist that he is…