Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, previewing each NLL team as the season approaches. This week we preview the Saskatchewan Rush. Saskatchewan won the NLL Cup last year, and looks to be a title contender again this year.. Read our other NLL team previews: Calgary Roughnecks, New England Black Wolves,Colorado Mammoth, Buffalo Bandits, Toronto Rock.
What can be said about the team that has everything? The Saskatchewan Rush were an absolute powerhouse in 2018. The franchise captured its third Cup in four years and its second in Saskatchewan. But for a team that reached the pinnacle of the sport last year, don’t expect them to get complacent. They’re going to stay hungry, and with Derek Keenan at the helm both on the bench and behind the scenes, the Rush have become a team that can – and most likely will – continue their impressive run into the near future.
2018 Finish: 1st in the West, 14-4 Overall, 6-3 Home, 8-1 Away, Won Finals in Game 3 against Rochester
Losing guys in the offseason is never easy, especially when they’re guys who compete at the level that Ryan Dilks (18 GP, 7 PTS, 62 LB, 20 CTO) and Jeff Cornwall (18 GP, 8 PTS, 71 LB, 13 CTO) do every night. But there’s a good chance they’ll be back next winter, as both are taking the year off to join separate fire departments. However, the two players the Rush have lost for good both landed in San Diego, as Adrian Sorichetti (18 GP, 15 PTS, 64 LB, 20 CTO) was taken in the Expansion Draft and Dan Dawson (5 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 PTS, 11 LB with Saskatchewan in 2018) signed with the Seals in the offseason.
The Rush’s roster is deep when it comes to talented forwards, so losing Dawson won’t hurt them too much (more on this later), but they lose three solid defensive guys who could also put the ball in the net when needed. The Rush brought in transition player Travis Cornwall (11 GP, 8 PTS, 32 LB, 9 CTO with Vancouver in 2018) via trade just last week to try and alleviate the situation. And if Keenan wants to look at his Draft class for more defensive support, I’m thinking either 6’4”, 225 pound Ryan McLean (37th Overall, Calgary Mountaineers) or 6’1”, 205 pound Tyler Gaulton (67th Overall, Limestone) could shore up the backdoor and provide some muscle. Training camps wrapped up this past weekend and rosters will be announced soon so let’s see if my prediction comes true.
The 2018 Rush offense was absolutely stacked, and returning this season are league MVP Mark Matthews (18 GP, 32 G, 84 A, 116 PTS, 67 LB) and MVP finalist Robert Church (18 GP, 47 G, 60 A, 107 PTS), along with Ben McIntosh (18 GP, 46 G, 34 A, 80 PTS, 70 LB) and young gun Ryan Keenan (18 GP, 26 G, 47 A, 73 PTS, 66 LB). Every forward who played 14 games or more last season had at least 44 points and the Rush offense ranked first overall in goals per game (14.11) and goals scored (254).
The only loss, on paper at least, is Dan Dawson, who posted 11 points in his limited stint in Saskatoon. Adding to the fact that a majority of the offense will return, the power play converted a staggering 59 times out of 87 opportunities last season, good for a league-leading percentage of 67.82. Offensive coach Jeff McComb runs a tight ship, and, barring any unfortunate injuries, I’d be surprised if the offense doesn’t repeat or even best their 2018 numbers this coming year.
The Rush welcome Jeremy Tallevi to their 2019 staff as their new defensive coach after the departure of Rush mainstay and defensive boss Jimmy Quinlan, who resigned at the end of November to spend more time with his family. But the transition is likely to be a smooth one, as Tallevi has worked with Keenan in the past, and brings a ton of coaching experience into the mix.
On the floor, captain Chris Corbeil (18 GP, 12 PTS, 97 LB, 21 CTO), Mike Messenger (18 GP, 12 PTS, 92 LB, 22 CTO) and Kyle Rubisch (17 GP, 9 PTS, 130 LB, 25 CTO) will once again anchor the squad that allowed the least number of goals in the league in 2018 (196). The bulk of the faceoff work will go to Jeremy Thompson (18 GP, 15 PTS, 164 LB, 15 CTO), whose 234 faceoff wins and 164 LB were good enough for fourth and second most in the league, respectively.
Evan Kirk (18 GP, 12-3 W-L, 10.82 GAA, .777 SV%) is coming off a banner year, his first in a Rush jersey, with a career best – and league – best 12 wins, and his lowest GAA since coming into the league in 2012 with the then Minnesota Swarm. Don’t get me wrong, management will have its hands full with trying to figure out how to replace guys like Dilks and Sorichetti, but no one should be too concerned. They have a proven track record of producing championship caliber teams, and there isn’t anything here to say that won’t be the case this year.
Will they repeat? Won’t they? I’m not going to chance it and say. But either way, it’s going to be a fun season in Saskatoon. The Rush bested the likes of Buffalo and rival Colorado in average league attendance (14,639) last season, the first time in franchise history. Now, their season doesn’t start till Week 2, a Friday night clash against the Black Wolves at Mohegan Sun on December 28th, so the real party begins January 5th with a home showdown against San Diego. It’s banner raising night so that will be sure to have Saskatoon rocking.
Other key matchups include a rematch of the Cup Finals with Rochester at the SaskTel Centre on January 19th, and a three game stretch in early spring (February 22nd, March 2nd, March 16th) when the Rush will face divisional opponents Colorado, provincial neighbors Calgary (who they beat to reach the Finals), and a revamped Buffalo squad that will look to make a statement against the champs. The game most fans and pundits should be circling on their calendars, though, is the Rush’s last game of the season, where they go head-to-head with the Mammoth once more at home. If the season shakes out the way both teams want on their ends, this game could very well prove to be huge in terms of playoff implications.
I see the Rush going 13-5, improving their home record from last season (6-3), and dropping a few more games on the road. The road treated them well in the past (8-1), but this is a fresh start and a lot of their opponents have made significant changes. Teams will want to avenge those losses from a winter ago (i.e. at Toronto in December W 17-9 and at Vancouver in April W 20-10). My gut and my brain rarely agree, but I can almost safely predict they repeat as Western Division champs.
See the full Rush schedule here.