The Saskatchewan Rush are 0-2 and are tied for last place in the West Division through Week 2; that might not actually be a bad thing for this franchise.
But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. How did the Rush end up 0-2 to start this NLL campaign?
Following a gut-wrenching overtime road loss to the title-contending-hopeful Halifax Thunderbirds to start the season, the Rush lost another one-goal game a week later to the still-defending champion (albeit revamped since COVID) Calgary Roughnecks.
At the season-opener in Halifax, the Rush went back-and-forth with the Thunderbirds the entire night, never once falling behind by more than one goal. Were it not for an Eric Fannell stunner that shot past Shute, the Rush might have started this season in a different mindset that they are in now.
Then, to follow that tough break, the Rush had to face the last team to hoist the NLL Cup (who still have Curtis Dickson, Christian Del Bianco, and now, a healthy Jessie King), it doesn’t get much more challenging than that. Despite multiple comebacks from three goals down, the Rush again lost by the thinnest of margins due to a Zach Herreweyers goal in the final two minutes of the contest.
As much as those early-season losses were heavy shots on the chin, Rush defensemen Kyle Rubisch put some perspective on the losses.
“Both games could’ve gone either way – they were both one-goal games,” Rubisch said. “It’s not the start we wanted, but we feel we could’ve won both those games.”
So, that’s how the Rush got here. But, why might this last place, 0-2 spot not be the worst spot for them? Rush GM Derek Keenan explains that, thankfully, this is not unfamiliar territory for them to be in.
“We’ve had slow starts before,” Keenan said. “We’re not panicked; we’re not overly concerned. We knew that because of so many changes on offense, especially on that right side, it was going to be a work in progress, and that’s what happened. Last week, we saw a lot of improvement from Week 1 and we expect the same this week.”
Keenan is correct that the Rush have been in this situation with an 0-2 record before, and not too long ago, for that matter.
The last time was in 2017, and that year, the Rush made it to the finals but would come up short in the best-of-three series versus the Georgia Swarm. Only two years earlier, in 2015, the Rush were in the same spot. Yet, this time, they climbed out of that 0-2 hole and went on to win the championship against the Toronto Rock.
In the league’s 35-year history, a team has started the season 0-2 or 0-3 (a position the Rush could be in after Friday’s game) and then gone on to make it to the championship game nine times. The Rush have done it twice and have now set themselves up in a position to do it for a league-most three times.
One thing that makes them capable of such resiliency this year compared to 2015 or 2017 is the core group of players who have remained with the Rush since that 2015 championship run.
Mark Matthews, Robert Church, Chris Corbeil, Jeff Cornwall, Ryan Dilks and Kyle Rubisch were all on the floor celebrating the team’s victories both of those years. Mike Messenger and Ryan Keenan joined those names mentioned above for battle in 2017, as well as goaltender Pete Dubenski who was third-string to Aaron Bold and Tyler Carlson.
Most of those veteran players are defensemen, and defense has been a focal point of the Rush’s identity for many years. Head Coach Jeff McComb thinks that the defensive core and the new pieces in the back-end can help turn things around for the team.
“Having the defense that we’ve had in front of our goaltenders for some time has no doubt helped our goaltending situation,” McComb said. I think that with the plan we have from a defensive perspective, I think we can help our goalies out by telling them what shots they should expect to see mostly.”
Having solid goaltending between the pipes is obviously critical to a team’s success. The Rush have already matched up against some of the best current goaltenders in the game, such as Warren Hill and Del Bianco. Friday night, they’ll face arguably the hottest goalie in the league, the Vancouver Warriors Alex Buque.
Despite the final results over the last couple of weeks, McComb feels confident that Adam Shute, who has taken the reigns from Evan Kirk, can do the job between the pipes.
[Shute] played a few games for us a couple years ago when [Kirk] was hurt, and he was excellent,” McComb said. “I haven’t seen anything this year that changes that impression. I think he’s been excellent.”
The Rush understand that this 0-2 start has made their journey to the playoffs, let alone the championship game, a little more complicated than they would have preferred. And, even though it seems like it’s said every year, it really does feel like the West Division is as competitive as ever.
Rubisch, one of several Rush players who embodies a never-give-up attitude, believes that this weekend’s game will be a real-time evaluation of how competitive the team will be for this year’s NLL Cup.
“This weekend is going to be a real test to see if we can get back on the right page,” Rubisch said. “But, I think we know that the slow start – being off for so long – it’s not time yet to hit that panic button.”
Get your Tickets Now or Tune in Tonight on TSN1 or ESPN+ at 7:30pm PT/10:30pm ET