It was quite a night for the Saskatchewan Rush who seemingly had little left to play for with their spot in the NLL’s West Division Final locked up long ago.
But the season-finale on Saturday night will certainly go down in the team’s book of favorite memories. Mark Matthews set a new NLL single-season record for assists with 84 and broke his own franchise record for points in a season with 116 as the Rush topped the Calgary Roughnecks 11-10. On top of the individual achievements for Matthews, the Rush’s victory capped a perfect 10-0 regular-season record against their rivals from the West Division and also marked the team’s second season-series sweep of the Roughnecks in the past three years. The Rush won all three games against the Roughnecks, finishing off the regular season with a 14-4 record.
In the fourth quarter, Matthews tied the single-season assist record held jointly by Callum Crawford, Josh Sanderson, and Shawn Evans as he set up Ben McIntosh’s fourth goal of the night on a Saskatchewan power play that put the Rush up 10-6. After a hat-trick marker for Curtis Dickson and the fourth goal of the game for Holden Cattoni pulled the Roughnecks within two, Matthews broke the record as he fired a pass to Dan Dawson on the wing who then rifled a shot past Calgary goalie Christian Del Bianco.
“It’s pretty cool when you can set a record, but it’s all to do with the guys on the team,” said Matthews. “There’s no assist if they don’t score and sometimes those guys can score at will. They make it happen and that makes my job easier.”
The helper on Dawson’s goal also established the new team record for points as Matthews dodged past his previous high of 115 set in 2015.
“The biggest thing for Mark is he is such an unselfish player,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “He could care less about goals, assists and points. He only cares about wins and winning championships.
“He’s been pretty dialed in all year after we didn’t win it all last year. He’s had a great year and he’s a special player.”
The Rush will have a week off to prepare for the one-game West Division Final that they will host on Thursday, May 10th as they go on the hunt for their third Champion’s Cup title. Saskatchewan will play the winner of the one-game West Semifinal set for next Saturday in Denver as the Colorado Mammoth host Calgary.
Saskatchewan got off to a solid start with a 2-0 lead through the first quarter as Matthews sent a neat flip pass to McIntosh who beat Del Bianco over the shoulder. Jeff Shattler followed that up as he got behind the Calgary defence to bury a shot five-hole.
The Roughnecks dominated the second quarter as they scored five goals including a shorthanded tally by Garrett McIntosh that gave Calgary a 5-4 lead. But the Rush were able to knot the game with just 0.8 seconds left in the half, striking with an extra attacker when Ryan Keenan gunned a shot under the crossbar.
Robert Church and McIntosh scored 16 seconds apart in the third quarter to put the Rush ahead 7-5, and after Cattoni notched his hat trick, Shattler struck for his second and Matthews fired a shot in from the top of the slot to put Saskatchewan up 9-6.
Marty Dinsdale had the Rush’s other goal while Dawson and Keenan each contributed three assists. Wes Berg and Dane Dobbie had the other markers for the Roughnecks. Dickson and Dobbie both added four assists.
Saskatchewan goalie Evan Kirk totaled 36 saves, four more than his Roughnecks counterpart Del Bianco.