The Saskatchewan Rush unleashed a furious offensive onslaught, including a 13-point game for Mark Matthews, as they thoroughly dominated their 2018 season home-opener with a 24-11 victory over the New England Black Wolves.
Matthews’ performance was highlighted by six goals as he set a new Rush team record for points in a single game, while the team’s 24 goals equaled the franchise’s single-game high set in 2016 against Vancouver. The Rush also set a new team record for the largest margin of victory in a regular-season game before a packed house of 14,635 at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
The Rush trio of Matthews (6 goals, 7 assists), Ben McIntosh (5 goals, 4 assists), and Robert Church (2 goals, 8 assists) combined for an astounding 32 points.
“We just were able to get some really good looks and as an offence when you get those kind of open shots, you’re going to get some goals,” said Matthews.
With the two teams tied 3-3 early in the second quarter, the Rush took off and never looked back. A 10-goal run began with markers 21 seconds apart from Ryan Keenan and Church. The backbreaker for the Wolves came next as the Rush scored a pair of shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill. Ryan Dilks rumbled into open space and sent a shot off the arm of New England goalie Aaron Bold and into the net. Only 19 seconds later and still down a man, the Rush’s Curtis Knight fought through two defenders in front of the Black Wolves’ net and delivered a low shot past Bold to make it 7-3.
Matthews scored his second on a terrific effort to make it 8-3 as he took the ball from the corner, burst past a defender, and tucked the ball inside the far post as he lunged into the crease. He completed a first-half hat trick that chased former teammate Bold to the New England bench and then watched Jeremy Thompson add a goal on a breakaway to put the Rush up 10-3 at halftime.
Saskatchewan’s run continued into the third quarter as McIntosh and Matthews added power-play markers, and McIntosh then connected for his hat trick as the Rush deftly moved the ball around the offensive zone to make it 13-3. The Rush went on to score nine goals in the third quarter – another team record set during the game – including a breakaway effort from captain Chris Corbeil, and goals from fellow defenders Brett Mydske and Jeff Cornwall. Cornwall’s goal was a highlight-reel tally as he collected a loose ball in front of the New England net and went behind his head with a backhand shot that beat Wolves backup goalie Doug Jamieson.
The Rush’s offensive push took a short break early in the fourth quarter but then suddenly caught fire again after Church’s long shot went in to put Saskatchewan ahead 21-8. More goals followed suit when Keenan stood his ground in front of the Wolves net and delivered a pass to Jeff Shattler who fired home a quick shot. Just 26 seconds later, Keenan found himself a spot in the slot, spun and fired a shot inside the post for his second of the night. Matthews rounded out the scoring with his sixth of the night coming with 1:48 left.
Adrian Sorichetti chipped in two goals to add to the Rush attack while Keenan and Knight each supplied three assists.
“We able to really execute in all areas of the game,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. “We got our transition going, our ball movement was top notch, and we shot the ball really well.
“I thought we really got going after we started playing more physically in the offensive end.”
The game was the first between the teams since their major off-season trade that saw the Rush acquire goaltender Evan Kirk from New England in exchange for Bold, defenceman John Lafontaine, and draft picks. Kirk finished with 31 stops, pushing him over the 3,000-save mark for his career. Bold wound up surrendering 14 goals.
“It was a big game for him playing his old team and he was awesome in the first half which helped us get out 10-3 and we pulled away,” said Matthews of Kirk’s effort.
“We had (Bold’s) number tonight but that’s not to say it will happen again next time.”
Shawn Evans and Kevin Crowley counted three goals apiece for the Black Wolves with singles going to Kevin Buchanan, Mark Cockerton, Matt Spanger, JP Kealey, and Stephan Leblanc, who was playing in his first game with New England since coming over in a trade with Toronto earlier this week.
The Rush will enjoy the victory and their 2-0 start to the season through the holidays before getting back to business on January 6th when they go on the road to take on the defending NLL champion Georgia Swarm.