Sunday, 5 June 2016

NLL champion Rush better than advertised

Champion’s Cup winner delivers thrills to Saskatchewan

Rush captain Chris Corbeil raises the Champion's Cup.
    It seems unthinkable to say a championship contending team exceeds expectations when it wins, but that is exactly what the Saskatchewan Rush have done.
    The Rush capped their first season in Saskatchewan on Saturday by sweeping the best-of-three National Lacrosse League championship series 2-0 with an 11-10 victory at the SaskTel Centre over the Buffalo Bandits. Locked in a 10-10 draw in Game 2 with 12 seconds to play, Rush defenceman Jeff Cornwall found himself on a breakaway and tucked home the championship winning goal to send a sellout crowd of 15,182 into delirium.
    The noise and sheer excitement from the crowd might have hit the highest high that has ever been seen for a sporting event held at the SaskTel Centre. The exciting finish was fitting way to cap a special season.
    The Rush followed and unprecedented path since winning their first NLL championship in June of last year while the franchise was based in Edmonton.
    Unable to secure a long-term lease in the Alberta capital, owner Bruce Urban moved the team to Saskatoon in July of last year to end a decade long run in that centre.
The Rush celebrate an NLL finals winning goal from Jeff Cornwall, centre.
    The NLL is an established professional league dating back to 1987. In a circuit like the NLL, it was almost unthinkable to see a club leave a city after winning a league title. To go on and repeat as a league champion in a new home city isn’t something that would be conceivable.
    When the Rush set up shop in Saskatoon, an obvious curiosity factor existed. Saskatoon had seen its share of professional teams come and go, but the Rush were the first team to arrive from an established circuit, and they had the Champion’s Cup in tow.
    The club took on the provincial moniker calling itself the Saskatchewan Rush in order to brand itself as the province’s team like the CFL’s Roughriders, who are based out of Regina.
    The strategy appears to have worked. If you wandered thought the tailgate parties that happened in the SaskTel Centre parking lots pre-game, you would have found a group of supporters from Prince Albert who arrived at 3 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start.
    While the biggest contingent of supporters comes from Saskatoon, you would have found supporters from all sorts of locations in Saskatchewan. You would have also encountered some diehard fans from Edmonton, who traveled in to see their former team play.
The Rush fans are ready to party at the SaskTel Centre.
    In the six months leading up to the season, the Rush really had to hustle to sell the sport of lacrosse and be in a position to deliver a great game day experience for the fans. On Jan. 15 of this year, the Rush played their first home game before 9,147 spectators falling 13-11 to the Vancouver Stealth. While the Rush lost, the fans were hooked, and they returned.
    The Rush hosted 11 home games between the regular season and playoffs, and attendance did not dip below 10,000 for the last eight of those contests. Over 15,000 people attended each of the last three home dates. That included a SaskTel Centre record for a sporting event of 15,192 spectators for a May 21st home game that saw the Rush win the West Division final series against the Calgary Roughnecks.
    On the court, the Rush were expected to content for another championship. The club proceeded to top the West Division with a 13-5 record as the players quickly became comfortable playing in front of raucous home crowds.
Rush forward Robert Church drives to the net for a scoring chance.
    The fans loved the game presentation from watching the performances of the Crush dance team, getting pumped up by the music that blared continuously during play and doing the chest beat celebration every time the Rush scored a goal.
    To top things off, games were exciting, and the Rush were a fun team to watch. Goalie “Stone Cold” Aaron Bold and gritty transition player Jeremy Thompson became fan favourites as well as likeable team scoring leader Mark Matthews, who piled up 40 goals and 69 assists during the regular season.
    Matthews got the party rolling Saturday with an amazing diving goal that saw him get shoved into the Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo just 74 seconds into the contest. It took a video review to allow the goal to count, but when it went up on the scoreboard, the crowd went into a frenzy.
    The Bandits were game too, and both teams went back-and-fourth on the scoreboard. The visitors led 9-7 going into the fourth quarter, but the Rush prevailed on one of their classic final frame outbursts.
The Rush celebrate winning their second straight NLL championship.
    It seemed fitting for Cornwall to get the series winner as a reward for playing an unselfish and sound defensive game, which included a big shot block on Bandits phenom Dhane Smith.
    Scoring the series winner with 12 seconds to play, Cornwall showed he had hands of gold around the net. After the final buzzer sounded, a large number of fans stuck around for about an hour soaking in the post-game celebrations. The championship party would go long into the Saskatoon night.
    Forget being as good as advertised, the Rush were even better than advertised. Time will tell how long the feel-good honeymoon will last.
    Saskatoon sports fans have a reputation for being fickle. One wonders if they will disappear the first time the Rush have a losing season.
    With that said, the Rush appear to have the potential to be a winner for the foreseeable future. More good times appear to be in store in the coming years.

Nogier’s NHL signing an uplifting story

Nelson Nogier springs into action for the Rebels.
    The Saskatoon hockey community and the city of Red Deer received a feel good story on Wednesday when Nelson Nogier signed a three-year entry-level NHL contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
    The Jets selected the Saskatoon product in the fourth round and 101st overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Nogier, who turned 20 in late May, played last season with the Red Deer Rebels posting four goals, 17 assists and a plus-27 rating in the plus-minus department in 69 games.
    He helped the Rebels advance to the Eastern Conference Championship series of the WHL playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Rebels hosted the Memorial Cup and Nogier helped them make the tournament’s semifinal game.
    Nogier started his WHL career playing two-and-a-half seasons for his hometown Saskatoon Blades and was dealt to the Rebels in a trade in December of 2014.
    When Nogier signed with the Jets, tributes poured in from social media from the hockey communities in Saskatoon and Red Deer. The big overall message was that everyone was happy for Nogier, because he is an outstanding individual.
    Of course, Nogier is my young cousin, and my family is really proud of him. I was always big time impressed he won the league award as the WHL’s scholastic player of the year while with the Blades during the 2013-14 season. To do so well in school while playing elite level hockey is impressive.
Nelson  Nogier protects the point for the Rebels.
    With that said, it will still heartwarming to see the tributes from everyone else.
Blades play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk said a lot of really glowing words over the radio waves which were repeated on his blog. Kind words also came from social media posts from Blades president Steve Hogle and Blades managing partner Colin Priestner.
    I recently visited with Blades and University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team alumnus Derek Hulak, who plays for the AHL’s Texas Stars, and he was happy to hear my cousin signed with the Jets. That was extremely cool to hear as Hulak is held in very high regard in Saskatoon’s hockey community.
    It was also so enjoyable to travel to Red Deer and see how much the Rebels fans really took Nogier in as one of their own.
    Nogier has always been the perfect gentleman even when he was a young boy. As he grew up, it always amazed me how well-mannered he was.
Nelson Nogier brings the puck up ice for the Rebels.
    It is also sweet to see how close he is to his younger sister Danielle, who just graduated as the captain of the two-time defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champion Saskatoon Stars. Danielle was the scholastic player of the year for the SFMAAAHL this past season and will join the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the fall.
    Nelson and Danielle love sharing stories about their hockey adventures with each other and are always in constant contact. They really enjoy spending time doing things together.
    Both are outstanding persons, and I am confident they will do well in the next chapters of their hockey lives.

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