The Saskatchewan Rush showed why the defending champs tied for the NLL’s best regular season record as they defeated the Calgary Roughnecks with a 16-10 road win to take a 1-0 series lead in the West Division Finals in front of a crowd of 12,211 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night. With the win, the Rush continued its playoff winning streak against Calgary dating back to last year’s West Finals and won the fifth game against its rivals in 2016 after sweeping the season series, 4-0.
Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan was very happy with how his team handled themselves.
“We played a great 60 minute game,” he said. “Our composure is key. We’re still a relatively young team yet a veteran team when it comes to these battles.”
The top scorers for the Rush were Mark Matthews (2g, 3a), Chris Corbeil (2g, 3a) and Robert Church (2g, 2a) while Ben McIntosh scored four goals as the game’s first star. The Roughnecks leading scorers were Curtis Dickson (3g, 2a), Dane Dobbie (1g, 4a) and Jeff Shattler (2g, 2a).
Saskatchewan got an early lead as Jarrett Davis put one past Calgary starter Mike Poulin just over a minute into the game. Less than 30 seconds later Roughneck rookie Reilly OConnor tied the game. Mark Matthews and Curtis Dickson traded goals before Saskatchewan defenseman Nik Bilic put the Rush ahead 3-2. The back-and-forth first quarter continued as Jon Harnett tied the game with a power play goal. Dickson said he knew it would be a battle because of how important winning game one is.
“They are defending champions and first in the West for a reason,” Dickson said. “You definitely want to get the first one in the back pocket.”
Robert Church was able to put the Rush up with just nine seconds left in the frame as Saskatchewan took a 4-3 lead into the second. Shots were 16-14 in favor of the Rush.
There were a lot of chances early on in the second but nobody was able to get one through. The Roughnecks looked to tie the game but the goal was negated due to a Too Many Men penalty. On the ensuing power play the Rush extended their lead to 5-3 as Ben McIntosh finished off a nice passing play. Wesley Berg was able to snipe one by Saskatchewan starter Aaron Bold as Calgary cut the lead to 5-4. McIntosh got his second of the game to restore the two-goal lead. Keenan praised his offence knowing the Roughnecks were going to play good defense against them.
“I thought we really stuck with it,” Keenan said. “Their defense plays our offence tougher than anybody else in the league.”
Riggers veteran Jeff Shattler took a shot that trickled over the line as Saskatchewan took a 6-5 lead into the second half. Despite being down at the half, Calgary head coach Curt Malawsky thought his offence was doing great.
“I thought we generated some good chances,” he explained. “Their goalie was looking behind him a lot. A couple fortuitous bounces here and there and we’d be up a couple goals.”
The third started fast as Jeremy Thompson scored for the Rush just six seconds in to put the visitors up 7-5. Dane Dobbie got a power play goal and Tyler Digby scored shortly after to tie the game again at 7-7. Dickson scored Calgary’s third straight goal as the Roughnecks took their first lead of the game, 8-7.
Keenan said aside from the three-straight goals, his starting goalie played great.
“I thought he made big saves at big times,” he said. “Every night, he gives you an opportunity to win.”
The quarter would go almost 10 minutes without a goal before Saskatchewan defenseman Brett Mydske tied the game at 8-8. That’s how the quarter would finish as the teams headed into the final frame. Saskatchewan held a slight edge in shots, 36-33.
Church opened the scoring in the fourth quarter netting his second of the game to give Saskatchewan the 9-8 lead. A power play goal by Matthews extended the Rush’s lead to 10-8. The Rush notched their third straight goal as Bilic squeezed one through Poulin on a partial breakaway as Saskatchewan continued to lead 11-8. Malawsky said his team needed to be good on transition, but Saskatchewan got the upper hand in this game.
“They had four transition goals and that changes the momentum. That was one of our keys to the game that we had to control the transition game,” he said. “To their credit, they did.”
Keenan praised his defense saying they came up huge in the later stages of the game.
“Our defense really did a good job taking away their time and space, creating some turnovers, got some transition goals which are always backbreakers,” he said.
Shattler was able to get one back for the Riggers but McIntosh answered right back with his hat-trick goal as the Rush led 12-9 halfway through the frame. Chris Corbeil got in on a dominant quarter by the Rush with a goal of his own as the Rush took a 13-9 lead. McIntosh got his fourth if the game before Dickson potted his hat-trick goal, the Rush continued to lead 14-10. Corbeil and Jeff Cornwall each scored empty net goals as the Rush would go on to take game one in convincing fashion, 16-10.
Calgary’s Jeff Shattler didn’t appreciate the empty net goals.
“When you have a team beat you just pull it out and kill the 30 and dump it in the corner,” the veteran said. “They gave us a lot of hate for next weekend and we’re going to be ready for these guys.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Ben McIntosh
2) Aaron Bold
3) Curtis Dickson
By Matt Fetinko for NLL.com. Photo by Candice Ward.