Success in past head-to-head encounters doesn’t mean a whole lot when it’s a one-game, do-or-die showdown to keep your playoff dreams alive.
The Saskatchewan Rush finished the regular season atop the National Lacrosse League with a 14-4 record and a 10-0 mark against their foes from the West Division, including a perfect 3-0 versus the Calgary Roughnecks. But it’s the run to the NLL Cup now and anything can happen along the way.
A course to a third league championship has been charted and the Rush will now need to get through their arch-rival to reach their goal. The Rush will host the one-game West Division Final on Sunday, May 13th against the Roughnecks at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
There’s a lot that goes into winning a monumental 60-minute task like this one. The Rush have been preparing themselves for this challenge all season.
“Come playoff time everyone needs to step their game up to another level,” said Robert Church, who registered his first 100-point season and finished second in league scoring behind his Rush teammate Mark Matthews.
“We will need everyone to contribute if we want to be champions again. We have the pieces to win another championship, but we still need to come prepared and want it more than the other team. We are a hungry group that wants to be NLL champions again after coming up short last year.”
Last season definitely did not end how the Rush had hoped as the then two-time defending champions were knocked off the throne by the Georgia Swarm. The grind of the 18-game schedule to get back to within sight of the Cup has taken its toll but that effort is what makes the Rush a tough team to get past.
“We’ve got a lot of toughness to us,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “Our guys have had a tough season with a lot of adversity. Only one other team, Georgia, had as tough a schedule as we did. We had six byes and still had two back-to-backs. There were teams that had three byes and no back-to-backs.
“But we still finished 14-4. We’ve been focused on this all year. It all comes down to one game, but we’ve been here before and know what it’s all about. It’s do or die, and we’ll be ready.”
The Rush have won four of five playoff series and hold an overall record of 7-3 in the post-season against the Roughnecks. Both times the Rush captured the NLL title, a series win over Calgary paved the way to their fortune. In 2015, the Rush won the best-of-three West Final 2-1, taking Game 2 and the deciding Game 3 mini-game in Calgary. The Rush would go on to beat the Toronto Rock to win their first league crown. Then in 2016, the Rush ousted the Roughnecks in two straight including a 16-10 win in Calgary. The Rush used that series victory to get into the championship series where they beat the Buffalo Bandits in two games to claim a second straight title.
The core group of the Rush have been through the treacherous waters of the playoffs before. Last year’s rookies – Ryan Keenan, Mike Messenger, and Matt Hossack – were part of a team that fell just short, but that experience is vital in moving forward this season. The team’s newest faces – Dan Dawson, Evan Kirk, and Jeff Shattler – have plenty of big-game experience and can bring a lot to a single 60-minute test.
Every player will have a role and every single one of them needs to play their part.
“We have put a lot of work in throughout the season to get to the point where we are at the top of the league,” said Rush forwards Marty Dinsdale. “But in a one-game series, it’s all about who shows up that night.
“We know it’s going to be a battle and we will have to prepare properly and come ready to fight for the spot in the finals.”
History Lesson: In the Rush’s last four trips to the NLL playoffs from 2014 through 2017, the West Final has been a slightly altered best-of-three series with a 10-minute mini-game used if the teams were tied with a win apiece. The NLL switched back to a one-game series this year for the division semifinal and final, but the NLL Cup Final will remain a full best-of-three.
The Rush have a franchise record of 3-3 in one-game playoff series.
In 2010, the Rush stunned Calgary in the West Semifinal then lost the West Final 11-10 in overtime to the Washington Stealth.
Once again in 2012, the Rush shocked Calgary on the road in the West Semifinal and followed that up by blowing out the Minnesota Swarm 15-3 in the West Final. The Rush’s first appearance in the Cup Final wound up being a 9-6 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks.
The last one-game series for the Rush came in 2013 and the Washington Stealth were the team to come out on top again, this time a 12-11 verdict. Eight players remain in the Rush lineup from that game – Brett Mydske, Kyle Rubisch, Curtis Knight, Jeff Cornwall, Chris Corbeil, Ryan Dilks, Mark Matthews, and Jeremy Thompson.