The past is in the past, but it’s still there.
And as far as the Saskatchewan Rush are concerned, the past has fueled them to the present.
At this time last year, the Rush were knocked off their perch atop the National Lacrosse League. The two-time reigning kings were dethroned in unceremonious fashion by the Georgia Swarm with a particularly gut-wrenching overtime loss ending the best-of-three final on the turf of SaskTel Centre.
But the Rush are back in position to win it all again as they go for their third title in four years with the newly named NLL Cup at stake in a best-of-three showdown with the Rochester Knighthawks beginning on Saturday in Saskatoon. Game 2 will go on June 2nd in Rochester with Game 3, if necessary, slated for June 9th in Saskatchewan.
From almost the very moment that the Swarm were handed the Cup last spring, the Rush set their sights on regaining their position as the lead dog in the championship hunt.
“It’s been our goal all year to win the West and get back to another Cup Final,” said Rush sniper Robert Church. “We came up short last year and everyone in our room knows how terrible that felt.”
The process of ridding themselves of that feeling began as soon as the team regrouped for training camp back in November. Any complacency that might have been lingering was long gone. This team was on a mission and from the moment the first whistle went to start practice, the work got started.
“I think the disappointment of last season’s Final is the motivation for this team,” said Rush captain Chris Corbeil, the first man to hoist the Cup in both 2015 and 2016.
“That loss really woke us up and refocused this group.”
The Rush heard the alarm clock, bounced up, and got busy. They scooted to a 14-4 regular-season record, most notably becoming the first team in the NLL’s 18-game era to go undefeated against its division rivals. That trend continued when the Rush knocked off the Calgary Roughnecks to claim their fourth consecutive West Division Final.
First in the division. Step 1 complete.
First overall. Checkmark.
Win the West. Done and done.
Last on the list of season-long goals – get the Cup back.
“We have built a championship-caliber team the last few years, so with that comes high expectations,” said veteran Rush defenseman Brett Mydske.
“Losing last year only fueled the fire for this year even more.”
Derek Keenan, the coach and GM of the Rush, put this masterplan together and has orchestrated its execution. He has kept the core group together, acquired a few necessary components along the way, and pulled off a handful of shrewd trades that landed his team enough high-end draft picks to restock the talent pool.
Just like the players, the bench boss set his target on recapturing the title soon after it was taken from his team.
“We’ve all been focused on that since the beginning of training camp,” said Keenan. “We went 14-4 and we didn’t lose a game in our division, so I’d say we’ve been pretty dialed in on our goal, and that goal is what we continue to be focused on with what lies ahead.”
Brothers at Battle: Two sets of siblings will be rivals in the NLL Cup. In one corner, it’s Dan Dawson and Matt Hossack wearing the green and black of the Rush. Across from them will stand Paul Dawson and Graeme Hossack sporting the teal and purple of the Knighthawks.
Dan Dawson, a sixth-round draft pick who has had a Hall of Fame career, was acquired in a mid-season trade between the Rush and K-Hawks after spending five seasons in Rochester that included two Cup championships. Dan is four years older than Paul, who was first-round pick and broke into the NLL as a goaltender.
Matt Hossack was the Rush’s second-round pick, 14th overall, in the 2016 draft. His older brother, Graeme, is a strong candidate to win this season’s Defenseman of the Year Award.
Short Summer: Players and coaches have no problem with a shortened off-season if it means they’ve reached the championship final. However, the 2018 hiatus will be briefer than normal.
Coach Keenan will still get in his annual fishing trip right after the Cup Final, but he’ll get back to Rush business shortly afterwards as the NLL’s expansion draft for San Diego and Philadelphia will take place. Existing NLL teams can protect 10 players and they will each lose two unprotected players to help fill the newcomers’ rosters. All 11 teams then will look to fill some of their holes via the amateur draft in late September.