Don’t count Kyle Rubisch out.
Not when talking about being one of the best defenders in the National Lacrosse League. He’s not just in the running, he’s very likely leading the charge.
Now in his ninth pro season, Rubisch is once again (arguably, maybe?) the top defenceman in the entire league. He was formally named the NLL’s best defensive player four years in a row – 2012 through 2015 – and then he seemed to reluctantly take a backseat to some of the other top stalwarts.
“I think Rubes has had his best season in a while,” offered Saskatchewan Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan.
“He’s been dominant every game. With all the changes on our back end, he’s been asked to do even more than in the past and he’s been an absolute beast on the ‘D’ end.”
“In my mind, still the best in the business.”
No matter what happens with the defending champions the rest of way this season as they prepare for Saturday night’s West Division clash with the Vancouver Warriors, Rubisch will have to be included in the rundown of defenders vying for end-of-season individual recognition.
The Brampton, Ontario, product is back on top of the league when it comes to the caused turnover stat – a category he virtually wrote the book on. He leads with 29 so far this season, owns the single-season record set in 2014 with an astonishing 61, and is the NLL’s all-time leader since the stat became official in 2011, now with 330.
He may not be the fastest or strongest guy on the back end, but Rubisch matches up, and more times than not, outmatches a long list of the league’s best shooters. His ball-swiping skills are legendary.
“It’s a product of our defensive principles,” said Rubisch of the turnover talents. “We like to play fast and pressure teams, so getting caused turnovers is a result of our defensive system.”
Though a fair bit less fleet-footed than some of his defensive teammates, Rubisch is also amongst the league-leaders in loose ball scoops, which is more a result of his keen sense of positioning rather than quickness. Earlier this season, Rubisch reached 1,000 loose balls as a member of the Rush, and has since eclipsed 1,100 for his entire career.
And somewhat surprisingly, he’s already matched last year’s goal total, too, when he bounded down the floor to strike for a shorthanded tally.
Rubisch had his four-year reign as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award-winner snapped by teammate Ryan Dilks in 2016. A year ago, Rochester’s Graeme Hossack took the honor home with Rubisch named as one of the three finalists. There’s little doubt Rubisch, who was on the NLL’s All-Rookie Team in 2011, will be in the hunt for the award this season.
The Rush, who have beaten Vancouver in seven straight regular-season meetings, have been notably better on the back end in recent weeks. Now it’s the offensive group’s turn to find a spark.
“I think our defence has been playing well recently. They have been improving as the season goes on. We need our offence to start doing the same,” said Rush forward Ben McIntosh, who netted a hat trick in last Friday’s narrow defeat in San Diego.
“A lot of teams in this league have not only scouted our offence, but they have started copying it. You can’t blame them. Bubs (assistant coach Jeff McComb) is an offensive genius. We have had a lot of success in the past, but teams have caught on, so we need to throw some wrinkles and adjustments into our offence.”
The Rush are averaging 12.50 goals per game, which is second-best in the NLL. Success on the offensive end has been hit and miss of late, however, for a variety of reasons. There have been times the Saskatchewan shooters have made opposing goalies look good or have been turned away by sensational saves. They’ve also rang shots off a good number of posts and crossbars, and made some head-scratching decisions with the ball as well.
It’s been tough sledding during this stretch. Before pocketing three against the Seals, McIntosh had been held to three goals over the previous three games. Robert Church, who got off to a hot start this season and has since been nagged by an injury, has just three goals in the Rush’s last four outings. Ryan Keenan has averaged only one goal a game over those same four.
There have been some bright spots, though, like Mark Matthews’ four-goal effort in the overtime loss to Buffalo, and Jeff Shattler’s 11 goals in the last five games – three of those being game-winners.
“It’s definitely not re-creating the wheel, but I think being a little less predictable will help us,” said McIntosh.
“Bubs has already been working on this with us so, I am confident we will only start improving.”