Editor’s Note: Let’s look at the newly rebranded Saskatchewan Rush! Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we are beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage for 2016, starting with a preseason preview series! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
On Christmas Eve Day we continued our NLL Season Preview series with a look into the Toronto Rock. Before that we hit up the Vancouver Stealth. We are staying in Canada for our third preview, but in a completely new province for the first time. Saskatchewan Rush, let’s see what you’ve got!
2016 NLL Preview: Saskatchewan Rush
In 2015 we got to see a different team take home the Champion’s Cup after the Knighthawks kept the trophy in Rochester for three seasons in a row. The Edmonton Rush handled the West and cruised their way to the very first championship in club history! It was an impressive run!
It seemed like only a matter of time until the Rush brought the trophy to Edmonton, but after their first title, it didn’t stay there for long. Just a few months after the end of the 2015 NLL season, owner Bruce Urban announced the relocation of the franchise after some mummers and speculation amongst fans and the media. An agreement between the Rush, the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Oilers ownership group and arena management failed to get ironed out in time and with the Oilers leaving the Rush’s home at Rexall Place and not inviting the team to join them in the new downtown arena, the Rush packed up shop and moved east to Saskatoon.
At 13-5, the Rush were the hottest team in the West last year. Although the city changed and the jerseys were updated, when it comes to the bench, the team is going to look a lot like they did last season. In fact, the biggest change in their offense is the re-activation of Curtis Knight, who sat out in 2015 with knee troubles. The team is coming off back-to-back 1st place records in the West and hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2011. Success and team chemistry have kept the front office happy, as they’ve barely made any moves to revamp the lineup.
The Rush are one of the most youthful clubs in the league, the oldest player on the roster is 30 year old goaltender Aaron Bold. Without having to worry about giving the elder statesmen their rest, the Rush are poised for another full-season of consistency and stamina, something they’ve been able to pride themselves on the past few seasons.
Well what else is there to know about the team we watched win it all in 2015, you ask? Trust me, I’ll fill you in…
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/2/16 @ Calgary Roughnecks
- Arena: SaskTel Centre
- 2015 Record: 13-5 (Regular Season), 4-1 (Playoffs)
- 2015 Attendance: 6,578
- Mascot: Naming contest underway! (Dog with a hardhat)
- Dance Team: Crush
- Website: SaskRush.com
There was little to no pressure on the management group heading into the 2015 Draft. With little to no holes to fill, anything that the Rush walked away with was going to be a bonus. Selections were made on Dan Taylor, Doug Buchan, Justin Goodwin, Luke Gilespie, Jimmy McBride and Reagan Harding. Taylor is the only name penciled in the starting roster, third-string goaltender Buchan earned his spot on the practice squad.
If you don’t know about Dan Taylor, do yourself a favor and give the guy a quick Google search. The Calgary native has offensive firepower coupled with an almost unparalleled work ethic. If time is good to Taylor, the young gun is going to be a staple of the NLL for years to come.
Lehigh helped guide Taylor into the elite athlete and leader he was destined to be. Starting every game in 2015, he led the Mountain Hawks, and the entire Patriot League, with 77 points, finishing 6th nationally with 4.81 ppg. In high school he was groomed in the Calgary-based Elev8 youth programs founded by Geoff Snider, where he excelled in the field game. In the box is where Taylor’s skills and leadership were born. His excellent career in Junior A kicked off as a 2010 Canadian Junior A Rookie of the Year Finalist. Taylor’s junior career was spent with the Calgary Mountaineers where he served as a captain and leading goal scorer for two years running.
The practice squad is talented and with such a strong starting lineup, how can you not feel the premonitions of a consistent and competitive organization for years to come? Doug Buchan was a hot pickup for the Rush; he had a great Junior A career in Burlington before jumping into CLax last season for a few games to see shots against high powered shooters. He might be the third keeper for Sask, but I expect this kid to find his way to the bench in the next few years, whether for the Rush or another franchise.
Because the defense is so ridiculously good, it’s very easy to overlook the talent on the offensive side of the floor. For years the team couldn’t put points on the board until they started drafting guys that could make a difference out of the gate. Now led by the Champion’s Cup MVP, Mark Matthews, legitamatley one of the most terrifying forwards in the NLL, the offense is putting the ball in the back of the net and they’re only improving each season.
Matthews tallied 115 points last season, 53 of which were in the goals column making him #2 overall in the NLL. Accumulating 27 points in just 5 games made the choice for the Finals MVP to be handed over to the big lefty. 2015 was good to Matthews; on top to the mentioned MVP award, he was named to the 2015 1st Team All-Pro list and he brought home the gold medal from the WILC, leading Canada with 16 goals and 30 points. Mark joined the single-season 50 goal, 100 point club last season on top of everything else.
Coming off his best of two seasons, Robert Church finished second in points for the Rush last year, collecting 92 total in 17 of 18 regular season games and another 15 points in the post. The righty stands at only 5’10”, 192 lbs, making him nearly the opposite of the massive Matthews except for the ability to create offense. But the weight doesn’t fall on the shoulders of just these two, Ben McIntosh is still in the mix for 2016.
The 2015 Rookie of the Year Award was handed over to McIntosh who led all rookies in goals (37), assists (49) and points (86) in the regular season. McIntosh posted two or more points in all 18 of his games played this year and scored 5 hat tricks. The first overall pick in the 2014 draft served up and immediate ROI for the Rush as he finished #12 on the goal scorers list.
Back for 2016 is Curtis Knight, the team’s MVP and leading goal scorer (35) in 2014. An untimely injury in the CUFLA Championship left Knight off the roster in 2015 as he recovered from knee surgery. It was hard to imagine that the Rush could get stronger this season, but by adding a dynamic and young scorer back into the lineup like Knight, this team is going to be nearly impossible to slow down.
Zack Greer has another high performing season last year, firing in 80 points in 18 games. Between the regular and post-season, Greer buried 44 goals in his best NLL season to date. Two-way transition man Jarrett Davis, a nominee for the 2015 NLL Teammate of the Year award, will be with club again this year. 53 total points and 71 loosies added up to one of the best seasons we’ve seen from the role player yet.
Now adding Dan Taylor to the mix, the Rush extended their streak of drafting weapons to the offense that are game ready come January.
I decided it was best to blend the Saskatchewan transition team with the defenders considering their their defensive focus and even the Rush website has trouble differentiating the difference. No team in the NLL had more members win a gold medal this summer in the WILC 2015 with Team Canada than the Rush. On top of that, 6 of the 10 guys in the transition/defensive group competed in the event. Sask has hands-down one of, if not the best defenses in the entire league.
Jeremy Thompson will again put his talents to the test in the face-off circle. Thompson went 52% in 2015 nearly taking every face, but struggled early in the preseason this year only winning 8 of 23 draws. Thompson led the team’s regular season totals in loose balls (181), the defensive side in goals (8) and finished second in points (15) on the D only behind Chris Corbeil (18).
Corbeil returns to the Rush after helping Canada earn the gold over the summer. He collected 94 loosies and caused 32 turnovers last season where he competed in 17 of 18 regular season games. The Captain was barely edged out by his own teammate Kyle Rubisch for NLL Defenseman of the Year honors. At 6’2”, 220 lbs, Rubisch is a terror for anyone carrying the ball down the floor, there is no one that can lay down the hitstick like Kyle. The vet is going into his 6th season and consistently finds his name at the top of league’s top players lists for his ability to dismantle an offense.
Brett Mydske and Ryan Dilks have proved to be one of the scarier tandems in the league along with Rubisch and Corbeil. Both defenders brought the gold back to Canada this summer after stellar performances in the world games. They twosome started all 18 regular season games and the 5 postseason games it took to win it all in 2015. Dilks being quicker and Mydske the larger of the two make for a dynamic duo down low that is only going to get better with time.
Nik Billic and John Lintz are another lock-down pair that could make a case for starting on most NLL rosters, yet they do their part to bolster the incredibly deep bench in Saskatoon. Over the summer, Billic led the Serbians in the WILC 2015, doing it all from scoring goals, taking draws, and running the defense. The reps Billic saw in Syracuse, albeit against much less experienced competition, is going to pay handsomely when it comes to his IQ, confidence and game speed this year.
Lightening quick Jeff Cornwall had an incredible postseason with the Rush and will be back along with John Lafontaine and Adrian Sorichetti to run the transition for the squad.
It seems like the Rush are extremely deep on all ends of the floor and goaltending is no exception. Some may say they have it easy with the plethora of world-class defensemen standing tall between them and the ball, but that would be taking away from the effort and abilities of 30 year old Aaron Bold, the backbone of Saskatchewan.
Somehow Boldy was left empty handed when it came to the 2015 Goaltender of the Year Award (Vinc), but that should bother the incredibly fit keeper who managed to bring home the NLL Champion’s Cup, the Mann Cup with the Victoria Shamrocks and a gold medal with Team Canada in the WILC. In the regular season, Bold led the NLL in wins (12), GAA (9.44), and minutes played (1,016).
Serving as his backup, Tyler Carlson will again take notes from one of the greatest in the game. He posted a 1-0 record in 2015 with a 71% save average. Carlson spent his time as a started in Minnesota and frankly just doesn’t see time because Bold is that good and always healthy (knock on wood).
The draft brought in a promising, but likely overlooked tendy. Youngster Doug Buchan was signed to practice squad to learn from Bold and Carlson in 2016.
Calling it Early
Holy moly, how can they not win it all again in 2016? On paper it looks like they could be the new Knighhawks. The relocation really shouldn’t be a big deal to these guys, very few spent much time in Alberta as it was and attendance was dropping in Rexall Place. The only things that may looks different this year is the new barn and the addition of lime green into the color scheme.
Derek Keenan and the boys are fired up for another year and the familiarity will only result in a tighter locker room. I’m not in love with Calgary and it’s always hard to judge Colorado so I’m leaving the Western Conference between Vancouver and Saskatchewan. OKAY, FINE, the Rush win it all again in 2016, you heard it here first… probably!
Am I crazy? What’s missing? Do you think the Rush are going to sink or swim after the big year that was 2015? Let us know what you think about the squad in the comments below!
Up Next: Rochester Knighthawks