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Rush franchise legend Mark Matthews moves on to Toronto

Mark Matthews was at a bachelor party in Québec last weekend. When he returned home to Oshawa, Ontario on Sunday afternoon, he received a call from Saskatchewan Rush General Manager Derek Keenan. Keenan had surprising news to share.

The Rush were moving on from the franchise legend.

On Monday morning, it was announced that 10-year NLL veteran, three-time NLL champion Mark Matthews, was being traded to the Toronto Rock in exchange for Zach Manns, Adam Jay and the Rushs first-round selection (12th overall) in the 2023 Entry Draft.

Matthews was taken first overall by the Edmonton Rush in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft andproceeded to play every single game of his NLL career with that organization. Over 10 seasons with the Rush, Matthews established himself as one of the leagues most dominant goal scorers and playmakers. He is the franchises regular-season leader in points (949), assists (606) and goals (343). He is also the franchises postseason leader in points (117), assists (77) and goals (40). All of those goals and assists helped lead the Rush to great success during the 2010s.

TORONTO, CANADA – October 1; The Edmonton Rush select Mark Matthews as the 1st overall pick in the National Lacrosse League 2012 Draft at the Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 1, 2012. (Photo by Graig Abel/Abelimages)

From 2013-2019, the Rush had a regular season record of 88-36 and a postseason record of 14-8, including three NLL championships in four appearances.

In 2018, Matthews set what was then the NLL record for assists in a single regular season with 84 helpers. That same season, Matthews tallied a total of 116 points which, at the time, was tied for the fourth-most points by one player in a single regular season.

If there was any player you could call Mr. Rush,” Mark Matthews would be at the top of that list.

So, you could imagine what it must have been like when he got the call from Keenan, a man with whom Matthews has shared so much history, that he was being traded to the Eastern Conference. Especially considering he still had one year remaining on his current contract – Matthews signed a three-year deal with the Rush back in 2021. He did not request a trade.

When I was told about the trade [on Sunday night], it was a little bit shocking,” Matthews said. It definitely didn’t sink in until [Tuesday] when all of the announcements all came out, and I was watching all the videos and stuff that the Rush had put up. Then, seeing the Rock post everything and then hearing from all the Rock players and staff now that its official, its starting to sink in now.”

The Saskatchewan Rush host the Halifax Thunderbirds at Sask Tel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, April 15, 2023

As time passed, Matthews quickly began to change his perspective on the situation. Instead of being shocked, disappointed or offended, he wisely began thinking about how bright his future could be in Toronto. His head coach, Matt Sawyer, certainly has no doubts about how bright Matthews future can be with the Rock.

Hes a high-end offensive talent,” Sawyer said. Hes somebody that has won championships at every level of lacrosse that hes played, and hes been a dominant player while hes done that. Hes another really good player to add to what we already have. Mark addresses some needs for us – hes a proven performer in big moments up front and on the left side. We were really excited when the opportunity was there to get him, and we had to try and pull it off, and we did.”

Matthews will always be playing pro lacrosse with the goal of winning championships. That is not going to change in Toronto. While hell be playing in a different conference, one he has minimal experience in, and will be working in a new offensive system, Matthews’ mission remains the same.

I was talking with Matty Sawyer today, and they just want me to come in and play lacrosse,” Matthews said. The last few years, kind of directing traffic if you will, being a primary ball carrier at all times with the Rush that I could change that up a little bit and feed off of everybody around me and learn their system. Hopefully, I can be very effective in that system and help them achieve their goal over the past few years of winning a championship…. I had a lot of good years in Saskatchewan, so I cant really complain about my time there. But, its nice to know that the Rock wanted me as bad as they did, and now its a fresh start here in Toronto.

If ones true goal is to win an NLL championship, being with Toronto is one of the best situations one could ask for heading into the 2023-24 NLL season. The Rock have made it all the way to the East Conference Finals in each of the last two seasons and have had the second-best regular-season record in the league in that span, boasting a combined record of 26-10 (13-5 in both 2021-22 and 2022-23). The Rock didnt end up with that excellent win-loss record by happenstance. This is a team that is built to have skill and depth at every position. Last season, the Rock added veterans Corey Small and Stephen Keogh, both age 36, to the squad to add some extra playoff and championship game pedigree.

The Saskatchewan Rush host the San Diego Seals at Sask Tel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, March 11, 2023

Between veterans such as Small, Keogh, Matthews, Mitch de Snoo, and another one of Matthews former teammates, Chris Corbeil, there is no shortage of championship game experience on the team. Dan Dawson was another pivotal piece to this in previous years, but he is now retired from the NLL.

Sawyer noted that there is no downside to having many men on the roster that know what it takes to get to (and win) the NLL championship.

“I dont think you can ever surround yourself with enough individuals who know what it takes and know how to go through the process of being a champion,” Sawyer said. Having said that, that doesnt get you anything. But, if youre an individual in a dressing room sitting beside or picking the brain of [a champion], how can that not make you better? That alone doesnt guarantee anything, but if you can create that environment, itll only be better in the end.”

Matthews is looking for any way he can help his new team to be successful (again). One thing Matthews can learn from those two quality forwards is how to play in the East Conference.

I havent played the East [Conference] much over the last five or six years, with the exception of maybe one or two games here and there,” Matthews said. Im just hoping to do here what I did with Saskatchewan. When there are times to set a pick or use my speed to get underneath or over top, or Ill be looking to pass the ball to guys. The main objective for me is helping in whatever way I can.”

The loss of Dawson frees up some opportunities for Matthews. He can fill the role left by the versatile, legendary power forward. Looking to the future, Matthews is particularly eager and excited to be reunited with Small, his former Rush teammate from 2013-2015. Out of all his new teammates, when asked how he would fit in with the new offense, the conversation always came back to working with Small.

Looking at the offense in Toronto, youve got a lot of guys that can score goals,” Matthews said. Smallsy is probably one of the best spot-shooters in the game. To have him there and to be able to facilitate the ball to him is going to be very fun.”

This trade sent shockwaves throughout the league in these early summer months, and there will be more to come, whether from the Rock or other teams. We already saw another significant deal go down involving the Rush this past week as the Panther City Lacrosse Club traded Patrick Dodds and Cam Wengreniuk to the Rush in exchange for Panther Citys first round selection (fifth overall) in the 2023 Entry Draft, as well as the playing rights to Matt Beers.

Matthews’ impact on the floor with the Rock is yet to be seen. We dont know what this roster will look like come opening day, but we do know that we wont be shocked to see Matthews being the elite player that he is, even with his new team, with a new system, in a new city, once opening day comes around.

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