By Scott Zerr / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo by Stephen Jones / Georiga Swarm
Over the course of a long National Lacrosse League season, every team has a game they’d like to forget, wipe from the memory banks, and move on.
For the second year in a row, the Saskatchewan Rush are hoping that very game comes and goes very early in the season. In 2016, it was the Rush’s home-opener – the first-ever game at SaskTel Centre – when they were flat and uninspired which resulted in a loss to the Vancouver Stealth. Last weekend, the Rush opened the 2017 campaign in Georgia and looked completely out of sync in falling 18-10 to the Swarm.
The two-time defending NLL champions turned in a totally out of character performance, and everyone knows what needs to fixed before the Rush take on the Toronto Rock this Saturday.
“We had about a 15-minute stretch toward the end of the first quarter and in the second quarter, but we ran into penalty trouble for the second time and completely lost any flow we had,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
“We got outplayed, outworked, and they executed better. It was a really good wakeup call. There wasn’t a sense of urgency and a sense of taking care of business. It was more of a fun trip to Georgia and we didn’t put in the work.”
Keenan didn’t only need what he saw on the turf to compile his concerns. The proof was in the numbers as well.
The Swarm went 5-for-10 on the power play, while the Rush were just 3-for-11. Saskatchewan surrendered three shorthanded goals in the game after giving up only eight all of last season. The Rush also gave up four goals via transition which essentially relates to a lack of hustle.
It was certainly a forgettable outing for backup goalie Tyler Carlson, who was standing in for suspended starter Aaron Bold, but the blame can hardly be left at the feet of the goalie.
“No doubt it was a tough night for him, but he didn’t get a lot of help either,” noted Keenan. “We had to kill penalties half the game which was a real lack of discipline. We allowed their skill players too much time and space, we gave up breakaways, goals in transition. We can not pin it on Tyler. It’s really unfortunate because he’s such a big part of our team.”
Keenan didn’t need to scream and shout after the game, nor will he when the team reconvenes in Toronto for Friday’s practice. The championship-calibre team knows it failed this test badly. It’s key now to rebound and take it out on the Rock.
“We have an experienced team and they know what didn’t go well,” said Keenan. “We need to really address the hard work part. That’s a given. Competing is the easy part. The X’s and O’s and executing are the hard parts. It’s the little things like running hard to the bench and in transition that we didn’t do well.”
After being one of the most frustrating places to play in the early years of the franchise, the Rush have won four straight in Toronto including the front end of a home-and-home series on back-to-back nights last March.
For pretty well half of the Rush roster, a game in Toronto is virtually a home game since they reside in southern Ontario. It’s notable how those members of the team seem to step up their game with family and friends able to see them in person, but the enthusiasm has to fit into the game plan and not outside it.
“Sometimes guys try to do too much so we want to make sure that everyone plays within themselves. We need them to be who they are,” noted Keenan.
RUSH NOTES: The Rush will have goalie Aaron Bold and forward Ben McIntosh back in the lineup for the game in Toronto as both have served their one-game suspensions from the Christmas Showdown shenanigans. Bold made 29 saves while McIntosh notched a hat trick for the Rush in last season’s win in Toronto … Saskatchewan racked up 25 penalty minutes in Georgia including Mike Messenger’s cross-checking major. The Rush took three penalties in a row twice in the game and four straight trips to the box in the third quarter.