The Saskatchewan Rush are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. Oddly enough, so too are the New England Black Wolves.
When the two teams last met, the Black Wolves came away with a 13-12 win in a game that Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan would later call a “microcosm” of his team’s season – plagued with inconsistency. So, there’s no question Keenan doesn’t want that kind of game out of his club when they have their home-opener against the Black Wolves this Saturday at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
The last time the Black Wolves were the home-opening opposition for the Rush was just two years ago and the home squad laid a franchise-record beat-down on the visitors tune of a 24-11 result. The final score marked a record for the Rush for goals in a game and Mark Matthews’ 13-point effort was a new high mark for the team as well. So, there’s no question New England would rather not have that kind of outing again either.
Both teams are off to 1-0 starts in the 2019-20 NLL season with both victories coming on the road. The Rush escaped the unfriendly confines of Pepsi Center in Denver two weeks ago with a 9-8 verdict over the Colorado Mammoth, a win that gained a small measure of revenge for the Mammoth’s overtime ousting of the Rush in the 2019 West Semifinal. Meanwhile, the Black Wolves kicked off their schedule just a week ago with somewhat surprising 12-8 win over the Toronto Rock.
“We’re going to get a good look at how they played against Toronto,” said Keenan. “They’ve done a good job bringing in some new pieces. (Third overall draft pick) Andrew Kew is a talented offensive player and they’ve built up their back end. They’re athletic and they’ve got speed.”
The road win over the Mammoth was key for the Rush so they could be in the right frame of mind for their home-opener in front of another expectedly rowdy Rush Nation crowd.
“Overall, it was a good win for us,” said Keenan. “It’s never an easy game against Colorado. At the start of the game, I thought maybe we’d have a problem with starting to run out of gas because of the altitude and we didn’t have a practice the night before. It was a funny game because in the third quarter, I thought we took it to them and they were running out of gas, but then in the fourth quarter, it went the other way. But we had just enough left in the tank.”
Like the Rush, the Black Wolves were disappointed with their ending to last season and are looking for something more out of their lineup.
“We want to win as many games as we can and position ourselves for later,” New England Head Coach Glenn Clark recently told the Norwich Bulletin. “I think we’ve always been a dangerous team, but the problem has been consistency and predictability. The next goal is to get to 11 or 12 wins and position ourselves playoff-wise and be a team that is consistently dangerous in this league.”
This game marks an early-season clash between two of the league’s top scorers. Saskatchewan’s Robert Church is on top of the NLL leaderboard thanks to an eight-point game (3 goals, 5 assists) against Colorado, narrowly missing out on being in on every Rush goal in the game as he missed out on Connor Robinson’s eventual game-winner. New England’s Callum Crawford sits in a tie for second in scoring with seven points after his hat trick and four helpers against Toronto.
It’s also a showdown between two goaltenders who got off to impressive starts. Evan Kirk’s save total of 34 isn’t out of this world, but a handful of those stops certainly were. His best of night may have been his last one as Kirk robbed Colorado’s Kyle Killen in the dying seconds to preserve the Rush’s lead. For the Black Wolves, Doug Jamieson racked up 46 saves and pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter after his team had built up a three-goal lead through 45 minutes.