The Saskatchewan Rush have loved every minute of playing in front of the their #RushNation fans, and now they can repay them for that support in the best way possible.
With a win on Saturday night at what is expected to be a bulgingly sold-out SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, the Rush would claim their second consecutive National Lacrosse League title and keep the Champion’s Cup within their clutches. The Rush have enjoyed a thoroughly amazing first season based in Saskatchewan with GM/head coach Derek Keenan recently calling it a “perfect fit” – a city and province in dire need of a winning team to support and the Rush bringing them a roster of some of the world’s best players coming off a championship season.
Certainly the Rush have thrived in Saskatchewan. They have exceeded expectations in every way when it comes to the fervent fans packing SaskTel Center, setting franchise records, and ultimately a new high-watermark for the biggest turnout in the venue’s history for a sports event.
All that’s left to do is win. Saskatchewan captured the opening game of the best-of-three Cup Final in Buffalo last Saturday with an 11-9 win over the Bandits. Game 2 goes this Saturday in Saskatoon.
The Rush were expected to be good this season, entering the 2016 campaign as a frontrunner for the Champion’s Cup. Now they are this close to be great. Back-to-back titles in a league as tight as the NLL would be something very special, and to make it happen in front of their own fans is exactly how the Rush hoped the season would end.
“We want to win it in Saskatchewan so bad,” said Robert Church, who is second on the Rush with 14 points in the playoffs, including five in Saskatchewan’s Game 1 win over Buffalo.
“Our fans have been unbelievable all season long and there isn’t a better way to repay them than with a championship on our home floor. We can’t wait to play in front of them.”
The Bandits and Rush entered the playoffs as the favorites and fittingly the season comes down to them in a head-to-head clash. Both teams finished the regular season with 13-5 records to finish first in their respective divisions. Buffalo squeezed out home-turf advantage for the playoffs thanks to winning in Saskatchewan back in February – the lone meeting of the regular season winding up in a 19-18 overtime decision for the Bandits. So Buffalo has proven it can win in Saskatchewan, but a game early in the season pales in comparison to one in June when the Cup is at stake.
A year ago, the Rush went to the Cup Final, won Game 1 on the road and then put the finishing touches on the series at home in a barnburner of a tilt that came down to a game-winning goal with just over a minute left in regulation. It’s certainly reasonable to assume that Game 2 of this year’s Cup Final will come down to the dying moments as well, and having been there before, the Rush are in tune with what they need to do.
“The idea of winning at home is definitely exciting, but our squad is focused on the process that goes into the upcoming game rather than its outcome,” said Saskatchewan defenseman Jeff Cornwall. “All we can do as players and staff is prepare to the best of our abilities and leave it all on the floor come the game’s end.”
Terrific Twosome: Both the Rush and Bandits had their own surges early on Game 1. Saskatchewan jumped out to a 3-0 lead only to have Buffalo respond with a four-goal run in the second quarter. From that point on, though, the game was pretty well a see-saw battle with the teams matching goal for goal.
Two goals by the Rush just 50 seconds apart were ultimately the final daggers into Buffalo. Ben McIntosh’s team-leading eighth of the playoffs put the Rush on top, and Zack Greer zipping home an insurance marker right afterwards proved to be an insurmountable lead for the Bandits who couldn’t return fire against a stifling Rush defense.
“I don’t think that there was ever a point in the game where we thought we had it locked up until the final buzzer sounded,” said Church. “The Greer goal late in the game to give us a two-goal lead gave us a little bit of breathing room, but still plenty of time for a team as high-powered offensively as they are to answer back.”
Story by SaskRush.com. Photo by Josh Schaefer.