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Rush Right In Thick Of Tight West Race

A much happier Derek Keenan was ready to discuss his team after Saturday’s victory over the Vancouver Warriors.

That is up until the point was raised that the Saskatchewan Rush have won 15 of their last 18 regular-season games against the Colorado Mammoth, the next team on the schedule coming up on Friday night at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.

“Oh, don’t tell me that,” laughed Keenan.

The fact whether it’s eight of 10, six of the last seven, or 15 of the past 18, the Rush have accumulated quite the list of one-sided records against opposing clubs over the past few years. Since the NLL adopted an 18-game schedule, the Rush have compiled a 14-win campaign, a pair of 13-win seasons, a 12-victory year, and a record-setting 16-2 log.

“We’ve got a good record against a lot of teams, but this year, we’re back with everybody else,” said Keenan. “We’ve been a very good team for a long time and we’ve beaten teams consistently, but there’s been no magic formula or having a team’s number. We’ve been consistently very good.

“This year, due to a variety of circumstances, we have to really get after it every week to have a chance to win. It’s not easy for us and nobody is taking it easy on us.”

Few would have expected the Rush to be .500 on the year at this point, but this isn’t the NLL of old. The West Division has five teams competing for four playoff spots and for the first time in a long time, every team has a legitimate shot at qualifying. The Rush are 3-1 against the West so far this season and can do themselves a huge favor by adding another to the divisional win column by beating the Mammoth. Yet Colorado, which seemed down and out just a handful of games into the season, have recharged of late including a notable win last weekend over the Georgia Swarm.

The Rush, who set an NLL record by going undefeated against division rivals a year ago, put a heavy emphasis every season on finishing atop the West. It’s a logjam right now with a load of impactful games to come.

“I don’t think it’s any different getting up for games whether you’re in first place or fighting for a playoff spot,” said Rush forward Robert Church. “With only 18 games, every game is so important.

“These season-series are going to mean a lot this year so it’s important to get wins against teams in the West. It’s pretty exciting that the race is so tight, but we feel we are still the team to beat in the West and we have yet to play our best lacrosse.

Now that a three-game losing skid has been tossed aside, the Rush want to start looking the part of defending champions eyeing a return to the NLL Cup Final.

“I think that we have been struggling a bit all over the floor,” added Church, who had a hat trick last weekend in the win over Vancouver.

“Our schedule didn’t allow for very many practices with travel, so we weren’t getting the reps in together that we needed. I think our best lacrosse is yet to be played. I think these next 10 games will be a good test for us and we’re excited for the challenge.”

TENDING THE TWINE: Coach Keenan wasn’t tipping his hand to say whether Evan Kirk or Adam Shute will get the start in net Friday against Colorado. Shute picked up his second career win last Saturday, beating Vancouver for a second time on its own turf.

“There was probably a couple (of goals) I’m sure he’d like back, but he did what we needed him to do – make saves and give us a chance to win,” said Keenan. “Kirkie is our number one but I have every bit of confidence in Adam, too.”

‘OH’ GOTTA GO: With Matt MacGrotty scoring his first career NLL goal last Saturday against Vancouver, the Rush have just four regulars who have yet to score this season – Chris Corbeil, Brett Mydske, Nik Bilic and Travis Cornwall.

It took MacGrotty only 15 games to get his first goal, but those games have been spread out over four seasons.

“Really happy for him,” noted Keenan. “He was having a tough night before that. He didn’t play the week before and he’s supposed to be on the same side as Corbeil, but then Corbeil couldn’t play. That’s your leader and one of the best defenceman in the league not by your side and the matchups were pretty difficult. But he made a big play picking off a pass, a little give-and-go, and finishing.”

After playing all 18 regular-season games three years in a row, Rush captain Corbeil missed Saturday’s game in Vancouver due to injury, but there is a good chance he’ll return to the lineup against Colorado on Friday.