By Scott Zerr / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo by Josh Schaefer
Panic had certainly not set in, but it’s safe to say the Saskatchewan Rush were feeling a strong sense of urgency when they had their home-opener last Saturday.
After two road losses to open the 2017 National Lacrosse League season, the Rush needed to pull everything together and get rid of the zero in the win column. An 0-3 start would border on disaster and cast a dim light on the two-time defending Champion’s Cup winners.
The Rush pulled through, though, putting forth easily their best performance of the young season as they crushed the visiting Rochester Knighthawks 16-8. Fans and players alike were surely thinking ‘It’s about time’ after the dominating effort.
“It was an important game for us,” said Rush forward Ben McIntosh. “With only 18 games in a season and a very competitive division, it was important to not get ourselves into a deeper hole than we were already in.
“I think we came into this game with a different attitude. We knew we hadn’t given our best effort for a full 60 minutes yet this year which is uncharacteristic of this team, so we came into this one focused and ready to leave it all out there.”
The Rush will now look to even their early-season record when they host the Vancouver Stealth on Friday at SaskTel Centre. It is Saskatchewan’s first game of the season against a West Division foe and the Rush’s first of three meetings against the rival Stealth, who won two of three matchups in 2016.
Saskatchewan sent an early message against Rochester, getting out to a quick 4-1 lead and then dropping the hammer with five goals in the second quarter. The K-Hawks did muster up some redemption early in the second half but the Rush stemmed that tide with two power-play markers and a shorthanded effort.
The outcome was a positive one for the Rush, not only in terms of getting their act together on the turf, but also as a terrific response to a passionate, sold-out crowd of 15,007 at SaskTel Centre that wanted to see their beloved team raise the 2016 championship banner to the ceiling and then get a much-needed victory.
“It was big for us getting the win, especially in front of our home crowd,” said Saskatchewan defenceman Brett Mydske.
“We weren’t in panic mode by any means, but no one wants to go 0-3 to start the season. The fans were unreal and we were happy to get the win for them.”
The win marked the team’s return to form as well as that of McIntosh, the former Rookie of the Year and reigning Sportsman of the Year in the NLL. McIntosh had been suspended for the season-opener in Georgia due to his role in the late-game shenanigans of the Christmas Showdown against Calgary, and then didn’t hit the scoreboard in the Rush’s loss in Toronto.
A two-time 30-goal scorer, McIntosh whipped in a hat trick against Rochester, all three goals coming in the first half and two of them on the power play. It was a key breakout effort by McIntosh after the sluggish start to the year.
“Definitely. Being suspended for the first game and then not putting up any points against Toronto is not an ideal start so it was nice to feel like I was helping the team out again on Saturday,” said McIntosh.
Getting all the talent going is one thing, but GM/head coach Derek Keenan was more pleased with the way his team responded to the challenge of stepping up their intensity.
“There was a clear understanding that we weren’t working hard enough and not paying the price, and the guys realized that,” offered Keenan.
“It didn’t take watching a lot of game film to know that. But we came out ready to play and competed way harder than we had in the first two weeks. You could tell by the way the guys ran off the bench on offence and back in transition. There was no jogging. They were willing to pay the price. They worked harder, they paid attention to the details much better, and they competed much better.”