The foundation has been laid.
Now the last of the season-long labor is all that remains to complete the job. It won’t be an easy last step, that’s for sure, but the Saskatchewan Rush need just one more win to capture their third National Lacrosse League title.
Having come away with a 16-9 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three NLL Cup Final, the Rush will forge ahead into Game 2 on the Rochester Knighthawks’ home turf this Saturday with the grand prize awaiting them.
“It feels great doing that in front of our home fans. It’s a good start but that’s a great Rochester team and we’ve got a lot of work to do yet,” said Rush defenceman Kyle Rubisch after the Game 1 win.
“It’s going to be a tough task. They are a very good team and we know we need a total team effort. We will have to execute our game plan and be disciplined.”
As much as the Rush are looking ahead to Game 2, it would be a disservice to breeze over the job they did in Game 1. It was arguably the team’s best performance of the entire season.
“I think we were really good in all areas,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
“We executed the game plan very well, we had great energy, we responded well when we got down, and we responded well to the fantastic goaltending by Matt Vinc.”
The offence was dynamic from the start, only stifled for a brief time by Vinc, Rochester’s all-world stopper, until even he couldn’t keep the Saskatchewan shooters at bay any longer.
His counterpart, Rush netminder Evan Kirk, certainly had the best showing of his inaugural year in green and black. Kirk made several clutch saves early on including a terrific arm stop on Eric Fannell in the first quarter. His best, and probably most crucial save, came just after his team had taken a 6-4 lead late in the second when he got his shoulder in front of Austin Shanks’ chance on a breakaway. He was rock-solid the rest of the way in out-dueling the five-time Goaltender of the Year in the opposing net.
In front of Kirk was the vaunted Rush defence which has been regarded as one of the best in NLL history. They lived up to that honor with a suffocating approach that held the Knighthawks in check. Had it not been for a couple of power-play goals plus a couple of fortunate breaks, Rochester might have barely got past five goals.
The Knighthawks’ big three on offence – Joe Resetarits, Cody Jamieson, and Austin Shanks – were held to a total of three goals and not one K-Hawk had more than two goals. Rochester was held to just 44 shots by comparison to Saskatchewan’s 64, the Knighthawks never scored more than two goals in a row, and they were held off the scoreboard for over 13 minutes while the Rush went on a game-altering seven-goal run over the second and third quarters.
“They are such a talented offence, so we didn’t want to them to get too much time and space,” said Rubisch. “We got extra pressure on them and contested their shots. When we had breakdowns, Kirky was there to make big saves.”
One area in particular that the Rush were focused on for the Cup series was controlling the tempo of the game. It was evident all over the turf that the Rush accomplished their mission, and it will be the recipe they intend to follow for Game 2.
“I thought we did a good job of putting pressure on their transition and early in their offensive possessions, and creating turnovers. We’re going to have to do it again and probably be even better at it,” said Keenan.
“Robert Church was a big catalyst for us especially with that shorthanded goal which started our seven-goal run. I think you learn a few things about the other team as you go forward, but we’re going to have to be even better this coming weekend.
“We need to be better because I think they’ll be better. They were the best team in the league down the stretch. They had a tough start to season but showed how resilient they are and what they’re capable of. Now they’re going to be desperate and at home so we have to be better.”
Rollin’ into Rochester: The Rush have accumulated an all-time mark of 6-3 when playing in Rochester. It was the site of their 2012 championship final loss to the Knighthawks, but it has also been where the Rush have put up two of their biggest road wins.
Two years ago, the Rush stomped the K-Hawks 21-12 in Rochester as Robert Church and Mark Matthews combined for eight goals and 13 assists. Back in 2015, Matthews and Church each put up seven points as the Rush whipped the Knighthawks 16-3 – the largest margin of victory in Rush history.
Matthews has played six games in Rochester and racked up 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists), while Church has played five games in the city and totaled 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists).
The Rush played their first-ever game in Rochester back in the 2010 season and came away with a 12-11 overtime win – a victory helped along by two goals from current Rush assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan.