Individual accomplishments are hard to single out when the group dynamic is incredibly strong.
In the case of the Saskatchewan Rush, though, there are still ways for that to be achieved. The most obvious case came last season when Mark Matthews and his record-setting single-season assist total earned him league MVP honors and Robert Church’s team-leading 47 goals earned him a runner-up nod for the same award.
But the Rush’s mantra has always been team first which is especially true amongst the offensive group where any number of players can step up on any given night. These past two weekends, it’s been Ben McIntosh’s turn.
McIntosh has notched back-to-back five-goal games and will have a shot at the hat trick this Saturday when the Rush host the Rochester Knighthawks. Through three games, McIntosh sits second in the league with 13 goals, tied for second with four power-play goals, and second in Three Star Award points with a pair of First Star recognitions. Amongst the players with five or more goals, the five-year veteran has an incredible 35.1 shooting percentage (13 goals on 37 shots).
“It’s been a good start to the season for sure, no question,” said McIntosh. “I’ve had some bounces go my way to start the year, but I do feel a bit more confident shooting the ball from the outside right now and that’s helped.”
A more confident McIntosh is a scary proposition for opposing netminders. It’s highly unlikely the Coquitlam, B.C., product can carry on with this current pace of averaging 4.3 goals per game which would put him on target for a celestial total of 77 goals. That’s five more than current single-season record-holder Dhane Smith’s mark set in 2016. McIntosh set a career-high last season with 46 goals, including 14 on the power play.
As laser-precise at finding holes behind the goaltender as he is at the moment, McIntosh is well aware that next time out he might have some of those same shots clang off the crossbar. That’s where the Rush’s well-rounded resources come into play.
“At the end of the day, it’s just the way our offence works,” said McIntosh, the Rush’s first overall pick in the 2014 NLL Entry Draft.
“We often times have a guy who goes off for four or five goals and that person can be anyone of our eight offensive guys. It’s going to change game by game. If you want to focus on shutting down one or two of our guys up front that just opens up more space for the others. I truly believe that is the biggest reason why we have been successful up front.”
The rest of the group are more than happy to have a guy like McIntosh picking the corners because as he’s scoring, they are racking up the helpers. Ryan Keenan had seven assists in the game against New England, Marty Dinsdale notched five in the win over San Diego, and Robert Church rolled a six-pack against Vancouver. Somebody has to set up all those goals and the Rush are getting a wide assortment of delivery men.
“Ryan and Robert are both great shooters and are coming off great years,” noted McIntosh.
“Teams know that they have to go out and pressure them or it’s going to end up in the back of their net, so as they draw defenders out to them, it opens up more space for the rest of us. Instead of them stepping into a shot, they’re finding that next pass to get the team a better look.”
McIntosh, who has won the NLL’s Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Player awards so far in his career, will target the Knighthawks net on his next mission. He tallied 10 goals against Rochester last season – five in two regular-season matchup and five in the best-of-three NLL Cup Final – and expects last year’s finalists to renew acquaintances accordingly.
“It seems we’ve developed a rivalry with most teams in the league,” said Drexel University product.
“In the past four years we’ve played four different eastern teams in the Final. Emotions are always at their highest in those games. That’s how rivalries are born – from playing against each other in those big games. Rochester is a great team with some big bodies out there.
“It’s going to be an emotional game for sure.”