Seeing familiar faces on the opposition side of the floor is nothing new in the National Lacrosse League.
But seeing six former teammates in one night, all of whom used to be with you through thick and thin, is certainly strange. It is, however, what the Saskatchewan Rush will have to contend with when the expansion San Diego Seals pay their first-ever visit to SaskTel Centre on Saturday night.
Rush captain Chris Corbeil played with five of the six former Rush who will be coming to town with the Seals. Before the game even gets started there will be fantastic flashbacks to reflect upon as the Rush’s 2018 NLL championship banner will be raised to the arena rafters. Then it’s time to get serious.
“I’d like to believe we’ll treat it as just another game, but if anything, it’s kind of a must-win game for us,” said Corbeil. “We’re disappointed with the result in New England last week, now we’re coming to the home-opener and it’s a divisional matchup.”
The Rush’s season did start on a sour note as they dropped a 12-11 verdict to the Black Wolves last Friday in Connecticut, while the first-year Seals have split two road outings highlighted by a stunning victory in Colorado.
San Diego’s lineup already had five former Rush on board before backup goaltender Tyler Carlson was brought in last week. A popular figure amongst his past teammates, Carlson can do a lot to boost his squad even from his familiar perch behind the defensive gate.
“He’s not supposed to make much of an impact for that position, but tends to get under the opponent’s skin,” reflected Corbeil with a laugh. “I don’t know if we have anyone who is that chatty anymore. Mark Matthews is not the kind of guy who will initiate it, but if it comes at him, he can be pretty vicious and bite back.”
The Seals dug deep into the Rush talent well prior to the start of their inaugural campaign. GM Patrick Merrill nabbed fan favorite Adrian Sorichetti in the Expansion Draft, and later got four draft picks out of his Saskatchewan counterpart in order for the Rush to retrieve veteran d-man Brett Mydske from the same draft. San Diego’s other connections to the Rush are:
*Dan Dawson – last year’s pre-trade deadline acquisition by Saskatchewan from Rochester, who played in just six games with the Rush
*Tor Reinholdt – mainly a reserve defender the past two seasons
*Johnny Pearson – the Rush’s second-round pick in the 2017 Entry Draft
*Brodie Merrill – spent two years in Edmonton and was the 2010 Transition Player of the Year with 53 points and 190 loose ball scoops
With the departure of former captain and assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan, there are no links left between the current Rush and the version that entered the NLL in 2006. But Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan was a part of the league’s growth that same season as he brought the Portland Lumberjax into the loop. The team lasted only four years in the Rose City, but that first season was a monstrous success, something the Seals would surely be looking to duplicate.
Keenan won both the General Manager and Coach of the Year awards in 2006 as the Lumberjax went 11-5 in the regular season before losing in the division semifinal. The Rush’s mastermind could certainly see the Seals having somewhat similar success in their Year One particularly since the NLL’s new Expansion Draft rules are far more beneficial to the new franchises than ever before.
“Back then in the Expansion Draft, we were getting the other teams’ 14th or 15th best player,” said Keenan. “Now they’re getting the 10th best player, and on our team, that’s a really good player.
“They’ve got a chance to be competitive right away. San Diego got some good talent in the draft and through free agency. I think they’re a really good team and they’re going to compete for a playoff spot right out of the gate.”