The Saskatchewan Rush’s goal of defending the Champion’s Cup was achieved on Saturday night as they defeated the Buffalo Bandits 11-10 in Game 2 of the Cup Final to clinch the best-of-three series 2-0 and earn their second straight National Lacrosse League title.
Jeff Cornwall scored the game-winner and series-clinching goal with 12 seconds left in regulation time, sending a sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 into a frenzy at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. The Rush defender snared a high rebound, used his blazing speed to race down the floor on a breakaway, and snapped a shot inside the far corner past Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo.
The Rush captured their first NLL title in franchise history one day shy of exactly one year ago with an 11-10 win over the Toronto Rock in Game 2 of the 2015 Cup Final.
“It was a chance to redeem myself after a mistake in the first quarter,” said Cornwall. “There’s no other team I’d rather play with. We go to the wall for each other. We come together as a team and play with emotion. As individuals, we’re a bunch of great players, but it’s as a group that we’re strong.”
It was a top-to-bottom effort by the Rush in Game 2. Five different shooters – Zack Greer, Robert Church, Mark Matthews, Ben McIntosh, and Curtis Knight – each scored twice, while Church and Matthews each added four assists. At the other end of the floor, the Rush’s vaunted defence again held the high-powered Bandits’ offence in check.
Most significant, however, was the performance of Rush goalie Aaron Bold, who made 47 saves and was selected as the Champion’s Cup Most Valuable Player award-winner.
“It’s like a dream,” said Bold, who made 44 stops in Game 1 of the series when the Rush beat the Bandits 11-9 in Buffalo.
“I love these guys and I’m grateful to be a part of this team and this organization and a part of this great town. It’s our first year here and they took us in so I want to say thank you first and foremost to all the fans here.”
Saskatchewan trailed Buffalo 9-7 after the third quarter but launched their comeback and pulled within one when Matthews scored on a power play right off the start of the fourth. Robert Church then scored back-to-back goals 56 seconds apart to put the Rush ahead 10-9. His first came as he found a hole in the defence and was left all alone in front of the net where he deked Cosmo and tucked the ball in the net. Church then put the Rush up with a hot shot off the wing but the lead lasted just 11 seconds before Kevin Brownell scored off the ensuing faceoff.
With the game tied 10-10, Buffalo had an opportunity with just over a minute left but Bold turned aside a shot from playoff leading scorer Dhane Smith. The Bandits had a last-ditch chance to get even after Cornwall’s goal but Bold was all over a shot from Ryan Benesch.
Saskatchewan opened the scoring just 1:14 into the game when Matthews dove into the crease and tucked a shot under the crossbar. The play The Bandits rebounded, however, and eventually took a 4-3 lead by the end of the first.was initially ruled no goal but a video replay review overturned the call on the field and awarded the goal. Cosmo was banged up on the play which clearly attributed to the next Rush tally when Knight put a weak bouncer between the Buffalo goalie’s feet.
Knight tied the game 4-4 but Buffalo grabbed the lead back with 48 seconds left to go before halftime on a long shot by Alexander-Kedoh Hill. The Bandits were hoping to take a one-goal cushion into the break. The Rush, though, had other ideas and capitalized with only five seconds left when Greer came off a screen and gunned a shot to the top corner to make it 5-5.
Saskatchewan’s shooters twice found the net in the third quarter by surprising the Bandits with long-range shots. McIntosh cut Buffalo’s lead to 6-5 when he targeted the net from way out as the shot clock expired, and Greer made it 7-7 with a shorthanded marker as he sniped a shot from just over centre past the screened netminder. The Bandits recovered from those goals and eventually grabbed a 9-7 lead before the third ended.
By SaskRush.com. Photo by Josh Schaefer.