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Previewing the Alterna Cup

Hang on to your tuques action-starved box lacrosse fans because the all-Canadian, Alterna Cup is ready to take off eh.

North of the border boxla bragging rights are a big deal.

“There is always that extra level of excitement when we play another Canadian team,” says Saskatchewan Rush captain and transition/defender Chris Corbeil. “It adds another layer of motivation.”

The in-season competition between the five National Lacrosse League (NLL) franchises based in the Great White North starts tonight as the Rush visit the Halifax Thunderbirds at Scotiabank Centre as part of Face Off Weekend in what could also be an early preview of this season’s NLL Cup finals.

For the Thunderbirds, tonight’s tilt against the Rush is definitely a game that has been circled on the calendar.

“We do have a history between our clubs,” says Halifax captain and forward Cody Jamieson. “Over the past few years, they’ve definitely set the bar.”

The Alterna Cup was introduced during the 2019-20 season before it was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and included an instant classic between the Rush and Thunderbirds in Halifax on February 15, 2020 with Saskatchewan winning 16-15 in thrilling overtime fashion.

In that back-and-forth battle Jamieson held a hot hand offensively with a 9-point performance with 3 goals and 6 assists, while Corbeil played an outstanding two-way game collecting 1 goal, 2 assists and 7 loose balls.

Jamieson is also referring to the Rush’s near dominance of the NLL in recent seasons with three league championships in four seasons from 2015 to 2018, including Saskatchewan’s most recent title in 2018.

That 2018 win for the Rush came at the expense of the Thunderbirds franchise, who were then based in Rochester as the original Knighthawks. The two franchises also met in 2012 with the then Knighthawks beating the Rush, who at the time played in Edmonton. Rochester’s 2012 championship was the start of a three-peat dynasty, the only franchise in league history to claim that title.

So there’s some history between the two teams, as well as family-type feuds with and between the other three Canadian clubs: the Toronto Rock, Vancouver Warriors and 2019 NLL Champion Calgary Roughnecks.

“Our rivalries against Calgary and Halifax stand out the most to me,” says Corbeil. “Our longstanding rivalry with the Roughnecks dates back to the Rush’s time in Edmonton, and both teams have consistently found themselves at the top of the West Division for the last decade or so.

“Our rivalry with Halifax seems less obvious, but the Rush have played against the Thunderbirds franchise in two NLL championships. We also played against them in what many consider to be the game of the 2019-20 season.”

A new twist on the Alterna Cup competition this season is that every all-Canadian matchup will be available to watch on TSN, with 9 games featured as the NLL Game of the Week on TSN’s linear broadcast. This includes going head-to-head with the hockey on some Saturday nights as well.

Which is a real big deal north of the border.

“Playing a nationally broadcast game is something our players are very excited about,” says Corbeil. “The sport of lacrosse is so exciting and entertaining.

“Having pro lacrosse televised across the entire country provides exposure to a massive audience who otherwise wouldn’t be introduced to it, which grows the game and provides greater opportunity for the next generation of lacrosse players.”

Corbeil and the Rush are also looking forward to their first Alterna Cup home game later this month to show off SaskTel Centre and 12,000-plus rabid green-clad fans.

“The atmosphere at Rush home games is one of the best in all of professional sports,” says Corbeil, “and we’re excited to showcase that to the entire country.

For this season’s Alterna Cup winner it could be sweeter than a hot back-bacon ham and pineapple pizza drizzled with maple syrup. The other four squads? Left out in the cold like lonesome loons on a frozen lake.

Alterna Cup schedule for December (all games on TSN/ET):

Saturday, Dec. 4: Saskatchewan at Halifax, 6 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 10: Toronto at Halifax, 6 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 11, Calgary at Saskatchewan, 8:30 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 17, Saskatchewan at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 30, Halifax at Calgary, 9:30 p.m.

Alterna Cup facts:

The season-long competition is based on head-to-head games between the five Canadian clubs. The team with the best winning percentage from those games will be crowned the inaugural champion and receive the Alterna Cup trophy.

The Alterna Cup trophy:

The unique trophy design is based on a vertical geometric cup in the shape of a Canadian maple leaf and sits on an integrated hexagon base. The Cup is cast in bronze and features a golden patina with polished accents.