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Stories/Op-Ed

Season Preview: Edmonton Rush

The Edmonton Rush in 2014 had the best regular season in the history of the National Lacrosse League. They set a record by winning 14 straight games to open the season. They were the first team to win 16 games in a season. They were second in the league in goals for and first in goals against. They had a player win the defensive player of the year award as well as having finalists for the goalie of the year and transition player of the year and a member of the all-rookie team. Just about everything went right for Edmonton until they reached the playoffs. Then they lost in the West Division finals to the Calgary Roughnecks, falling 2-1 in the mini game. And just like that, the dream season came to an abrupt end for the Rush. They enter 2015 with very little change to the roster and no change to their expectations: it’s championship or bust for this Edmonton team.

2014 record/playoffs: 16-2 in regular season, 1-2 in playoffs (including mini game)

Top 3 returning scorers: Mark Matthews (31 goals, 47 assists for 78 points), Cory Conway (18/51/69), Jarrett Davis (16/37/53)

Key additions: Corey Small (F), Ben McIntosh (F), Tyler Carlson (G)

Key losses: Curtis Knight (F, injured), Brodie MacDonald (G, traded), Derek Keenan (Coach, leave of absence)

Outlook: There’s no need for much change when your roster is as strong as Edmonton’s, and accordingly the lineup looks almost identical to last year’s. And there’s not much doubt that the Rush will be very good once again. Whether they can win 16 games again is very much up for debate; that was an historical regular season they had in 2014. As mentioned above, though, it’s all about the playoffs this year for the Rush.

It certainly helps the cause that they were able to make the trade to move up and get the first overall pick, with which they selected Ben McIntosh. The young forward has already looked right at home in the preseason, contributing some scoring and not seeming overwhelmed by the level of play at the pro level.

The return of Corey Small is a big deal, too. The lefty forward missed all of last season with a knee injury but had a strong summer for the Victoria Shamrocks, suggesting he’s ready to step right back into the lineup and contribute the way he did in 2013, when he was the team’s third-leading scorer with 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points.

Those pair of additions should help the Rush deal with the absence of Curtis Knight, but that doesn’t mean Edmonton won’t miss the emerging star forward. Last year, Knight led the team in goals (35) and was second in points (72). He was also named the team’s MVP, a recognition of how important his all-around play is to the team’s success.

When Knight’s knee collapsed under him and he fell to the turf during the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association championship game in November, it was a huge blow to Edmonton’s hopes for 2015. Much he was for his Guelph Gryphons Baggataway Cup champions, Knight is integral for Edmonton because he just does so much for the team.

The offence is in pretty good hands, though, with Mark Matthews leading the way and supported by the likes of McIntosh, Small, Cory Conway,Jarrett Davis, Zack Greer and Robert Church. They also get plenty of help from the back end, as Edmonton typically follows the Derek Keenan model of pushing the ball in transition. Chris Corbeil had a brilliant season in 2014, scoring 17 goals and 10 assists to lead the transition charge on top of his usual excellent defence.

There’s plenty more to like about the Rush D, too. Kyle Rubisch basically owns the defensive player of the year award, Brett Mydske has established himself as a stud defender and Jeff Cornwall has emerged as one of the best two-way defenders in the game, as well. Ryan Dilks,Nik Bilic, John LaFontaine, John Lintz…the list of excellent defenders on the Rush roster just keeps going.

So, the forward group is strong even with the loss of Knight, the defenders arguably comprise the best back end in the game, and the transition game is dangerous. What about goaltending? Hardly a weak link, that’s for sure. Aaron Bold has proved that the trade to acquire him from Rochester, where he was Matt Vinc’s backup, was a good one. He is challenging Vinc for the title of best goalie in the league, playing up to the level of the rest of the Rush team.

The penalty kill was good last year, too, ranking fourth in the league with a 54.29% success rate. In fact, the only real weakness the team showed in 2014 was the power play, which was seventh-best in the NLL, connecting only 41.11% of the time. Even there, there’s a bright side, though. The Rush gave up the fewest shorthanded goals against in the league: just four.

So, just about everything looks pretty good for Edmonton in 2015, save for the notable absence of Head Coach and General Manager Derek Keenan, who announced recently that he will take a leave from the team for the season to be with his wife Wendy, who is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer. It’s a tragic situation for the highly-respected Keenan, and the team will certainly miss him. 

Even though Keenan has built the team to have very few weaknesses, it is still a young squad that benefits greatly from his leadership. It will be up to assistant coaches Jeff McComb and Jimmy Quinlan to help the team’s leadership group keep the team focused on the task at hand throughout the season. There’s no question, though, that the team will look to perform well for Keenan, rather than letting his absence be a distraction. They certainly have the pieces in place to compete for the franchise’s first championship.

Story courtesy of Stephen Stamp from ILIndoor.com.

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