The Saskatchewan Rush secured first overall in the NLL standings and home-turf throughout their run in the upcoming Champion’s Cup playoffs as they beat the Colorado Mammoth 11-8 on Saturday night at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
Robert Church (3 goals, 4 assists) and Mark Matthews (1 goal, 6 assists) each turned in seven-point efforts on an emotional night as the entire province of Saskatchewan was reeling in the aftermath of the horrific bus crash that killed 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team and staff.
“It was good to get the win tonight,” said Rush forward Ben McIntosh, who finished with two goals and two assists.
“Having home-court advantage is big. It’s something we’ve been chasing all year. It’s sort of our first milestone to achieve for the year and now we go forward.”
Sporting #SaskStrong Broncos stickers on their helmets, the Rush (12-3) gave up the first goal in each of the first three quarters but prevented the Mammoth (10-6) from gaining any momentum. After Ryan Benesch’s shorthanded goal gave Colorado a 1-0 lead, the Rush answered with goals from McIntosh on a crease-dive effort and then Matthews who rifled a shot from the wing on a Saskatchewan power play. The Rush went up 3-1 before the first quarter wrapped when Ryan Keenan collected a loose ball after a failed clearing attempt by Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward. After two unsuccessful attempts on goal, the Rush finally made Colorado pay for the mistake when Keenan tucked a lunging dunk shot home.
Jeremy Noble cut the Colorado deficit just 51 seconds into the second quarter, but the Rush came right back only 31 seconds later when Church snared a hot pass from Matthews and gunned a shot behind Ward. Just over two minutes later, Church counted his second of the night when he latched onto a rebound from Keenan’s shot off Ward’s chest and put the second chance away to give a Saskatchewan a 5-2 lead heading into halftime.
Again, Colorado opened the scoring in the third with Benesch’s sidearm shot went under the crossbar against Rush goalie Evan Kirk and Joey Cupido scored on a transition breakaway. But the Rush battled right back as Keenan struck for another power-play goal and Curtis Knight was able to squeeze his quick-stick strike just across the goal line after a terrific pass from Matthews. The Rush grabbed an 8-4 lead when Jeff Shattler found a spot in the slot, stepped back from the defender, and sent an off-speed shot to the far corner behind Ward.
Church counted his hat-trick tally by getting airborne at the edge of the crease and in mid-air put a shot up high past Ward. McIntosh made it 10-4 on a fourth-quarter play getting behind the defenders, latching onto a pass from Matthews and tucking his shot in. The Mammoth put a late rally together on Benesch’s hat-trick goal along with goals from Zack Greer, Brad Self and Bryce Sweeting, but Rush captain Chris Corbeil iced the result with 30 seconds remaining with an empty-net goal.
“It was a grinder of a game but it was a good win for us,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “I thought our compete level was off the charts good. We paid the price, we ran hard. Our power play was good, we got some timely 5-on-5 goals, and Kirk was good in the net.”
Kirk finished with 36 saves, while Ward racked up 35.
The Rush face a doubleheader weekend coming up as they travel to Vancouver next Friday to take on the Stealth before returning home next Saturday to face the reigning Champion’s Cup title-holders, the Georgia Swarm. The Mammoth are back home next Saturday to host the New England Black Wolve