The two-time defending National Lacrosse League champion Saskatchewan Rush will get their chance at a threepeat after winning the West Division Final on Saturday night in Saskatoon.
Two goals early in the fourth quarter pushed the Rush in front to lead that the Colorado Mammoth couldn’t overtake, and Saskatchewan captured Game 2 of the West Final 11-10 before a rowdy crowd of 14,052 at the SaskTel Centre. The Rush completed the series sweep and now move on to the Champion’s Cup best-of-three championship series against the Georgia Swarm. The league final begins June 4th in Georgia with Game 2 of the series in Saskatchewan on June 10.
“Our goals all season were first to finish first in the division, then win the West and then win another championship so we’re almost there,” said Rush forward Robert Church, who finished the night with two goals and three assists.
“It was great to have our defense shut them down late and we have a lot of confidence going into the final.”
The Rush jumped ahead 9-8 with only six seconds left in the third quarter when Robert Church snared a rebound off the end boards and whipped a shot into the Mammoth net. Just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, Ryan Keenan pushed the Rush ahead 10-8 when he latched onto a terrific pass from Mark Matthews and while lunging at the net, he bounced a shot to the far corner past Colorado goalie Dillon Ward. A coach’s challenge video review by the Mammoth proved unsuccessful.
Saskatchewan went ahead 11-8 when Mike Messenger, who like Keenan was a first-round pick in this past year’s NLL Entry Draft, steamed into the Colorado zone, bulldozed his way past two Mammoth defenders, and then slipped a shot past Ward. The brilliant individual effort gave the Rush a three-goal bulge that the Mammoth couldn’t overcome.
“I think we showed a lot of composure and we’re really happy with the way those young guys performed,” said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
“Messenger was outstanding and Ryan scored a big goal. When you get that out of young guys and add that to what the veterans did it’s very important.”
Goals by Jacob Ruest and Jeremy Noble inched the Mammoth closer late in the fourth, but Colorado, with an extra attacker on the floor, could not manage the equalizer in the dying moments as Rush goalie Aaron Bold and his defense held the Mammoth to long-range attempts.
“Anytime in a big game there’s a 6-on-5 there’s a lot of pressure,” said Rush defenseman Brett Mydske. “It was just chaotic but we blocked a lot of shots. We weren’t going to let one get through and we blocked everything we could.”
Colorado held a 3-2 lead after the game’s opening quarter despite two highlight-reel goals by the Rush’s Mark Matthews and Jeff Cornwall. Matthews tied the game 1-1 when he busted his way past three Colorado defenders, lunged his way towards the net, and shifted to his backhand to score. Cornwall briefly put Saskatchewan ahead when he grabbed a pass in tight and went to his backhand to beat Ward.
The Mammoth went up 4-2 early in the second before the Rush rallied to even things before halftime. Ben McIntosh tallied on the power play with a well-placed shot under the crossbar, and Church followed right at the end of the Rush’s two-man advantage as he gunned an outside shot into the net.
Both teams got the offensive game in gear in the third quarter starting off with McIntosh’s second power-play tally and Eli McLaughlin answering for Colorado. Saskatchewan pumped home two goals 41 seconds apart to go ahead 7-5 including the seventh goal of the playoffs for Adam Jones when he stepped into open space then off a Colorado defenseman before zipping a shot past Ward.
McLaughlin struck on a Colorado power play for his hat trick and then Joey Cupido finished a breakaway opportunity with a nifty effort to put the Mammoth up 8-7. Matthews brought the Rush even at 8-8 when cruised into the slot and deftly flicked a one-handed shot past the Mammoth netminder.