Saturday, 16 June 2018

Everything is better when the Roughriders win

The Roughriders get set to charge out of the tunnel at Mosaic Stadium.
    REGINA - Everything is better when the Saskatchewan Roughriders win, when you live in the “Land of the Living Skies.”
    On Friday night, the Saskatchewan Roughriders opened their 2018 regular season schedule downing the defending Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts 27-19 before 29,788 spectators. At that moment when the Roughriders win and you live in Saskatchewan, everything becomes great.
    The sun rises bright and warm in the morning.
    That drive down from a centre outside Regina through piles of road construction no longer seems that bad.
    That Big Mac you eat at McDonald’s tastes better.
Fans dance at the tailgate party outside Mosaic Stadium.
    The person you are attracted to or your better half looks that much hotter.
    Two losses in the pre-season don’t seem that bad.
    The Roughriders players have an extra hop in their step when they meet the fans outside the stadium after the game.
    Newcomer Charleston Hughes looks just so good and natural wearing that green and white colour scheme making three sacks coming off the end of the defensive end. You feel bad he had to spend all those years wearing that awful red and white of the Calgary Stampeders.
Roughriders QB Zach Collaros fires a TD pass to Naaman Roosevelt.
    The vanilla latte at Starbucks takes that much sweeter.
    The coffee at Tim Horton’s is fresher.
    A post-game Pilsner goes down that much more smoothly.
    Brett Lauther’s one missed field goal doesn’t seem that much of a big deal. He made four-of-five kicks against the Argonauts and the 27-year-old becomes a field good story of perseverance kicking professional football since 2013 looking for a real chance to play and stick.
    Gainer the Gopher looks way more entertaining.
    Starting quarterback Zach Collaros looked that much more natural guiding the Roughriders offence. He completed 18-of-25 passes to nine different receiver for 203 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
    It was the 29-year-old’s first winning start since Sept. 16, 2016, when he guided the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a 20-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. You know more wins are coming Collaros’ way.
Roughriders DB Ed Gainey knocks down a pass attempt.
    The farmer notices all his crops are coming up nice and healthy in the fields.
    The long days on the oil patch go that much more quickly.
    The Rider Cheer team is more awesome than they normally are.
    A trip out to the lake or the beach is so much more relaxing.
    You already envision the guilty pleasure of running over that minor speed bump known as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
    First-year cornerback Nick Marshall looks like a perfect fit taking an interception back 66 yards to the house against one of the CFL’s all-time greats in Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray.
    Head coach and general manager Chris Jones looks way cooler in his black sunglasses and his all black attire.
    The noise at Mosaic Stadium sounds louder.
    The celebrations by the receivers seem a step more creative and humourous.
    You know seeing that win on television will urge those that didn’t go to the game to go to one in the future.
Roughriders OL Brendon LaBatte gets set to drill an Argos linebacker.
    All of a sudden, the work on the farm or any other occupation one is involved with can be put on hold to join the rest of Rider Nation for a few hours to have a good time.
    Running back Jerome Messam looks that much more powerful running through people for 72 yards on 21 carries.
    Linebacker Derrick Moncrief looks that much more intelligent showing up all over the field to make eight tackles.
    The blocks of offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Dan Clark look more powerful.
    The amount of fun increased at the pre-game tailgate party.
    The expensive meal at the fancy restaurant is well worth the money.
    The turnaround to play the Redblacks, who come off a bye week, in Ottawa this coming Thursday doesn’t look as daunting.
Gainer the Gopher meets the fans after a Roughriders touchdown.
    Here is to the Roughriders piling up whole bunch of more wins this season. At this moment after Friday’s win, your mood is so great you already envision the Roughriders lifting the Grey Cup over their heads on November 25 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
    At this point, the good times are going to roll, because the Roughriders have won a game.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Rush continue to be perfect at home fit in Saskatchewan

The Rush celebrate winning the NLL Cup on Saturday.
    The honeymoon is still going strong between Saskatchewan and the Rush.
    On Saturday, the Saskatchewan Rush added to their continually growing list of magical moments at the SaskTel Centre winning their third National Lacrosse League championship in franchise history and third in the last four years. In a series deciding Game 3 of the NLL championship series, the Rush scored the last four goals of the contest to surge to a 15-10 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks.
    The win sent the gathering of 13,645 spectators into a joyful victory celebration. The celebration ran through that night and into a victory rally on Sunday morning at the Delta Bessborough Gardens with the newly minted National Lacrosse League Cup.
Rush goalie Evan Kirk sets to pass the ball to a teammate.
    The Rush captured their first league title in early June of 2015, when the franchise was still located in Edmonton.
    Unable to secure a long-term lease in the Alberta capital, owner Bruce Urban moved the team to Saskatoon in July of 2015. The club was branded as the Saskatchewan Rush aimed at drawing fans from all over the province following a model established by the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    Now three years after that move, the Rush have become an established part of Saskatchewan’s culture. In the town of Chamberlain located about an hour drive north of Regina on Highway 11 heading to Saskatoon, you can find a billboard that says the road runs south for the Roughriders and north for the Rush.
    The Rush’s rise to prominence in Saskatchewan was aided by the fact the NLL’s championship team was heading to Saskatoon. In their title win in Edmonton, the Rush swept the Toronto Rock 2-0 in the best-of-three NLL title series.
Rush Hulk and Bruiser get the crowd fired up at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Rock have the reputation of being Canada’s most storied NLL team equaling the Philadelphia Wings for most titles in the circuit’s history at six.
    The Rush won their first championship in 2015 with one of the league’s youngest teams. While hope was high the title wins would continue in Saskatchewan, they were tempered with caution that the title win in Edmonton could be a one-year run type thing.
    There was good optimism the Rush could be a success, but the last three years have comfortably passed the most optimistic expectations.
    The Rush capped their inaugural campaign in the “Wheat Province” capturing a second straight NLL crown in 2016 sweeping the Buffalo Bandits 2-0 in the title series. Game 2 of that set at the SaskTel Centre provided a “where were you when” moment, when defender Jeff Cornwall went coast-to-coast to score the series winning goal for the Rush with 12 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
Rush forward Robert Church (#17) charges towards the Rochester goal.
    Cornwall’s tally broke a 10-10 tie and gave the Rush an 11-10 victory. The noise made by the 15,182 spectators in attendance that night was likely the loudest that was ever heard in the history of the SaskTel Centre for a sporting event.
    Saskatchewan fans had their first opportunity to watch their team lift what is now the circuit’s former championship trophy in the Champion’s Cup on home turf.
    The Rush had a real chance to win the NLL title again in 2017. They advanced to the NLL title series again only to be swept 2-0 by the Georgia Swarm.
    That series ended with a heartbreaking 15-14 overtime loss in Game 2 played at the SaskTel Centre. They were painfully close to forcing a series-deciding Game 3.
Jeff Shattler cheers after scoring a goal for the Rush on Saturday.
    In the aftermath of that setback, the Rush set out to reclaim the NLL championship. They topped the overall NLL regular season standings in 2018 with a 14-4 record and dumped their archrivals the Calgary Roughnecks 15-13 in the West Division final.
    That set up the championship encounter with the Knighthawks, who claimed both head-to-head regular season matches with the Rush.
    The Rush took Game 1 convincingly at the SaskTel Centre 16-9 on May 26, and the Knighthawks returned the favour with a 13-8 victory in Game 2 in Rochester on June 2.
    Game 3 on Saturday was a back-and-fourth affair until the Rush’s final surge to pull out victory. The Saskatchewan side wasn’t going to be denied.
The Crush Dance team entertains the crowd at the SaskTel Centre.
    While the Rush are an exciting and athletic team, they are also a club that is easy to cheer for. All their players are very down to earth including captain Chris Corbeil, top scoring threats Mark Matthews and Robert Church, fan favourite Jeremy Thompson, Kyle Rubisch, Cornwall, Ryan Keenan, goalie Evan Kirk and the list goes on from there.
    Former Roughnecks star Jeff Shattler joined the Rush this season and was immediately accepted into the fold by the Rush organization and the fans for being a beauty character on top of a great player. He cemented his status as a favourite picking up NLL playoff MVP honours with the Rush winning it all.
    Head coach and general manager Derek Keenan is the ultimate player’s coach and success has followed him wherever he has gone in the sport.
Rush Nation has backed the Rush since they arrived in Saskatchewan.
    The 56-year-old has been a part of nine NLL championship wins as a player, assistant coach and head coach, and he has made a total of 13 trips to the league final. 
    Along with assistant coaches Jeff McComb and Jimmy Quinlan, the Rush have the best coaching staff in the NLL.
    Urban made all of this possible by bringing in the right people to coach his club and the right people to run the business side of the operation.
    That helped the Rush franchise become part of Saskatchewan culture with the numerous appearances the team makes across the province.
Mark Matthews raises the National Lacrosse League Cup.
    People have continued to pack the SaskTel Centre for games, and team merchandise has flown off store shelves.
    The Rush logo is showing up in all corners of the province.
    While there will be changes with the Rush set to lose a couple of players in the NLL expansion draft and regular turnover that happens in professional sports, the club’s run to the top likely isn’t over yet.
    Most of the players on the team are in the prime of their careers. The organization is solid in coaching and in the front office.
    The brand new National Lacrosse League Cup might be in for a longer stay in Saskatchewan.

Sight of Dahlgren, Wasserman set Game 3 tone

Kaleb Dahlgren, left, and Jacob Wasserman, centre, sparked the fans.
    The pre-game appearance of two members from the Humboldt Broncos junior A hockey team set the tone for the Saskatchewan Rush and Rush Nation on Saturday night.
    While the Rush put on spectacle during pre-game introductions to get fans into games at the SaskTel Centre, the biggest cheers went to Kaleb Dahlgren, 21, and Jacob Wasserman, 18, when they were introduced as heroes of the game before Game 3 of the NLL championship series. Dahlgren was a right-winger for the Broncos and Wasserman was a goalie.
    Both were on the team bus that was involved in a tragic crash on route to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin on April 6 that resulted in the deaths of 16 players and team personnel.
    The loud cheers for Dahlgren and Wasserman went on for almost a minute.
    Of course, the Rush went on to claim the back-and-forth contest 15-10.
    The Rush were on board right from the start looking to do their part to help those involved in the Broncos bus crash. A day after the crash, the Rush hosted the Colorado Mammoth in a regular season clash at the SaskTel Centre.
    That April 7 game marked the first big community gathering in the province since the tragedy involving the Broncos. The Rush equipment staff quickly put Broncos logos on the helmets of all the Rush players, and stations were set up to raise funds to help aid those involved with the Humboldt club.
Chris Corbeil and the Rush players wore Broncos logos on their helmets.
    The Rush jumped ahead 10-4 early in the fourth quarter in that clash with the Mammoth and cruised to an 11-8 victory.
    The highlight occurred in the break between the third and fourth quarters when the crowd of 14,971 spectators broke into a chant of “Let’s Go Broncos.”
    During post-game media scrums, Rush captain Chris Corbeil said his team was playing for “our” community, the people of Saskatchewan and Canadians everywhere, and he hoped they did everyone proud.
    The contest provided a first real opportunity for people in Saskatchewan to gather together and collectively start helping each other through the tragedy and healing.
    The Rush took part in various events to help the Broncos as the season went on and visited Broncos players and families at their homes often bringing team merchandise as gifts.
    The Rush were stellar with their efforts in this area.
    On side note, Wasserman returned to the building on Saturday where it appears he might have picked up his lone win of his goaltending career in the WHL. On Feb, 23, Wasserman was called up to play for the Regina Pats against the Saskatoon Blades in a WHL regular season clash at the SaskTel Centre. He made 23 saves going the distance in goal for the Pats, who downed the Blades 7-5.

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Monday, 11 June 2018

Corbeil gets redemption in Rush NLL championship win

Rush captain Chris Corbeil lifts the National Lacrosse League Cup on Saturday.
    Chris Corbeil slayed the demons from literally dropping the ball a year ago.
    When the Saskatchewan Rush began their journey through the 2018 National Lacrosse League campaign, they were seeking redemption after being swept 2-0 by the Georgia Swarm in the best-of-three National National Lacrosse League championship series in 2017. Corbeil, who has been the Rush captain since the start of the 2014 campaign, struggled with the sting of that loss worse than anyone else on the team.
Jeremy Thompson (#74) and Chris Corbeil react to Corbeil’s second goal.
    In Game 2 of that series at the SaskTel Centre, the Rush held a 14-13 lead in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. The Rush had possession of the ball and pulled their goalie looking to play keep away from the Swarm to run out the clock.
    That tactic is often used in lacrosse.
    Corbeil mishandled a pass from teammate Jeremy Thompson while running in the open near midfield. The Swarm picked the loose ball and scored into the empty Rush net to tie things up at 14-14 and proceeded to win 15-14 after a goal in sudden death overtime.
    Due to that botched play in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, the Rush weren’t able to force a series deciding Game 3 back in Duluth, Georgia, and watched the Swarm celebrate a championship in Saskatoon.
The crowd at the SaskTel Centre celebrates a Rush goal on Saturday.
    On Saturday in a series deciding Game 3 of the 2018 NLL championship series before 13,645 spectators at the SaskTel Centre, Corbeil had a hat trick to help the Rush down the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 and take the series 2-1.
    The Rush held a slim 11-10 lead with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter and proceeded to seal victory with a four-goal surge. Corbeil capped the surge scoring into an empty net with 2:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
    “It is that much sweeter,” said Corbeil. “I really took a lot of ownership for what happened last year.
    “It was a tough time for me. After the season ended, I apologized to all the guys, because I really thought we should have been playing for a Game 3 and the championship back in Georgia. I dropped the ball and didn’t give my brothers a chance to do that.
Jeremy Thompson (#74) and Adrian Sorchetti defend Eric Fannell (#66).
    “(Saturday night) was unbelievably special.”
    The 30-year-old defender from Oakville, Ont., is one of the most personable players on the Rush. While what happened in Game 2 in the NLL final against the Swarm was in the back of his mind, he never visibly let it affect him as the Rush proceeded to finish first overall in the league’s regular season standings at 14-4 in the 2018 campaign.
    Corbeil has a reputation for saying the right things at the right time. He also had a good sense of humour, and he knows when to crack a joke to break up a sombre mood during rough times.
    After he scored his empty-net goal on Saturday against the Knighthawks, Corbeil was focused on closing out the game having put the Rush ahead by five goals.
Nik Bilic brings the ball upfield for the Rush.
    “When I put it in, I didn’t think much of it, because there was still time on the clock,” said Corbeil. “I know anything can happen in this wild sport, especially with the way Rochester can come back and their job on faceoffs.
    “When that buzzer went, it does feel like there is a weight off my shoulders. It is incredible.”
    The Rush won the NLL title in 2015 in their final season in Edmonton. They captured the title again in 2016 in their first season in Saskatchewan.
    Hopes were high inside the team about winning a third straight championship in 2017.
    The disappointment intensified that much more in the Rush organization after falling in the NLL title series to the Swarm.
    Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan said Corbeil didn’t need to shoulder the blame for what happened in that Game 2 loss to the Swarm. Keenan and Corbeil have always had a good relationship, and the bench boss loves how his captain leads by example.
The fans at the SaskTel Centre celebrate a third quarter Rush goal.
    The lead by example included following tips on how to get the better of Knighthawks star goalie Matt Vinc on Saturday night.
    “He (Corbeil) is our leader clearly in the room and on the floor,” said Keenan. “I like the fact that he kind of followed our shooting plan on Vinc.”
    Keenan said his club took a team approach to addressing what happened in last year’s NLL final going into the 2018 campaign. He said that helped make Saturday’s NLL championship victory that much more special.
    “It feels great, because it was disappointment last year for all our guys,” said Keenan. “We talked about it from the very first day of training camp.
The Rush celebrate winning the National Lacrosse League Cup.
    “I remember being in Toronto our first game of the regular season and saying to our guys, ‘You know what. I think last year was a blip on the radar for this team, this organization. We are going to get it done this year.’
    “They’ve been focused on that all year.”
    No matter what anyone told him, Corbeil still felt like the Rush loss in the 2017 NLL final was his fault, and Saturday’s win really helped him put to rest what happened against the Swarm in 2017.
    With that said, he didn’t want his personal story to overshadow the overall story of the Rush winning their third NLL title in team history and third championship in the last four years.
Captain Chris Corbeil meets a couple of Rush fans from Edmonton.
    To him, everyone on the team played their part in capturing the brand new National Lacrosse League Cup.
    “I am using ‘I’ a lot here, and I don’t like talking about myself,” said Corbeil. “This is such a team effort.
    “Really, I just feel good so I can do this my brothers. That is all this is about.
    “I felt horrible. I didn’t care that I lost it for myself. It was that I lost it for these guys. I was able to play a part and make amends of that this season.”
    Corbeil’s sense of humour proceeded to pop up when he talked about lifting the league’s new championship trophy, which replaced the Champion’s Cup. His crack made reference to captain Alexander Ovechkin of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who is popping up all over the place with the Stanley Cup after the Caps won professional hockey’s top price.
The Rush pose for the team picture after winning the NLL Cup.
    “It (the National Lacrosse League Cup) was heavy,” said Corbeil. “I couldn’t believe it.
    “I got it a little in front of me, and I think I dropped it almost on Churchy’s (teammate Robert Church’s) head. It looks kind of smaller than the last one. I wouldn’t be like Ovechkin carrying it around for the next four days.
    “I’m not strong enough. I haven’t done enough shoulder presses lately, so I will be passing it off.”

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Sunday, 10 June 2018

Shattler key in delivering NLL championship back to Rush

Forward scores four in series deciding Game 3, named MVP

Jeff Shattler (#77) meets Chris Corbeil with the NLL Cup.
    A major off-season addition paid off big in bringing the NLL title back to the Saskatchewan Rush.
    On August 3, 2017, the Rush signed free agent Jeff Shattler to a two-year contract. Shattler, who stands 6-feet and weighs 198 pounds, had starred at forward and at transition with the Calgary Roughnecks for the previous 11 seasons.
    He helped the Roughnecks, who are the Rush’s biggest rival, win an NLL title in 2009 and was named the NLL’s MVP and top transition player in 2011.
    The 33-year-old proved he still has a lot of gas in the tank as far as the sport of lacrosse is concerned piling up 24 goals, 36 assists and 76 loose ball pickups in 17 regular season games with the Rush in the 2018 campaign.
    In a winner take all Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League championship series on Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, Shattler came through with one of his biggest performances of his professional career. He fired home four goals and picked up an assist as the Rush downed the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 before 13,645 spectators.
Jeff Shattler was signed by the Rush as a free agent.
    The win allowed the Rush to win the best-of-three series 2-1 and capture their third NLL title in the last four years. They raised the brand new National Lacrosse League Cup, which replaced the Champion’s Cup as the circuit’s title trophy.
    The Rush were swept in last year’s NLL title series 2-0 by the Georgia Swarm.
    Shattler joined the Rush to help them win the NLL title.
    “We proved that we were the best team this year,” said Shattler. “We worked our bags off (and) sacrificed every weekend away from our families traveling.
    “I was away from my kids. It was all worth it, when that buzzer went. We got to raise that cup.”
    For his efforts, Shattler was named the MVP of the NLL playoffs. He piled up eight goals and seven assists in the Rush’s four post-season contests.
    In Saskatchewan 13-8 loss in Game 2 to the Knighthawks in Rochester on June 2, Shattler had a hat trick and four assists to pace the Rush offence.
Jeff Shattler spent 11 seasons with the Calgary Roughnecks.
    He came into Game 3 on Saturday motivated to have a big performance.
    “I love playoffs,” said Shattler. “I’ve always been a playoff player.
    “I love the intensity of it. I love that it is a do or die situation. That is why I play lacrosse.
    “I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.”
    Rush head coach Derek Keenan joked that the team’s general manager was a smart guy, when it came to signing Shattler. Of course, Keenan fills the role of general manager with the Rush too.
    With Rush having played against Shattler for such an extended time, Keenan thought it would be wise to have the high-intensity forward on the Rush’s side for once.
    “We targeted Jeff Shattler,” said Keenan. “August 1st at midnight, I was on the phone to him, and he was all in from the beginning.
    “It took us 24 hours to get a deal done. He was great all year. He fit in all year.
    “His offence took over in the playoffs.” 
Jeff Shattler celebrates one of his four goals on Saturday.
    Keenan said Shattler’s power-play goal at the 11:05 mark of the third quarter was a key play for his club. The Knighthawks had just scored three straight goals to go ahead 8-7, and Shattler’s power-play tally, which was his fourth goal of the night, drew the Rush even at 8-8.
    In the process, Keenan was impressed with how Shattler fooled Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc, who has won the NLL’s goaltender of the year award five times, on the equalizer that came with the man advantage.
    “He (Shattler) made big plays at big times when we needed a goal,” said Keenan. “The power-play goal he got, that was a special shot.
Grandma Rush celebrates a Rush goal on Saturday.
    “Not everyone has that shot in their repertoire. He was kind of fading away from the net. I think Vinc thought he was going far short side and he rolled it far side.”
    Rush captain Chris Corbeil said the biggest reinforcement that showed Shattler was accepted as part of the team, where the Rush players cared for him like family, came during the club’s sixth regular season game on Jan. 27 on the road against the Roughnecks. That contest, which the Rush won 13-12, marked the first time Shattler played in Calgary since leaving the Roughnecks.
    Shattler received the silent treatment from the Roughnecks, which didn’t sit well with the Rush.
Mark Matthews had eight assists for the Rush on Saturday.
    “We went into Calgary his first game back, and he put in a tonne great years for Calgary, and they didn’t do anything special for him there,” said Corbeil. “That rubbed me the wrong way.
    “I know it rubbed his family the wrong way, and he is able to come out here and get an MVP. I don’t think he is thinking about that anymore. I couldn’t be happier for the guy.”
    On the lacrosse turf, Corbeil was impressed with Shattler’s smarts for the game.
    “This is a detailed tough offence to work your way into,” said Corbeil. “He got in there and had an impact immediately and found a way to contribute and found a way to fit right in.”
    Shattler’s power-play goal started a four goal run for the Rush, which allowed them to take an 11-8 lead at the 2:08 mark of the fourth quarter. In the back-and-fourth affair, the Knighthawks responded with a pair of goals to cut the Rush edge to 11-10.
    Saskatchewan closed the contest scoring four straight goals to seal victory.
Rush forward Matthew Dinsdale is set to score on this circus shot.
    Corbeil had a hat trick for the Rush, while Ben McIntosh, Ryan Keenan, Curtis Knight and Matthew Dinsdale each scored twice. Mark Matthews recorded eight assists for the Rush.
    Josh Currier powered the Knighthawks attack with four goals, while Cody Jamieson had a hat trick.
    Joe Resetarits, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell scored singles for Rochester.
    Evan Kirk made 37 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Rush. Vinc turned away 37-of-51 shots to take the setback in goal for the Knighthawks.
    The Rush claimed their first league title back in 2015 in the franchise’s final season in Edmonton. They won their second title in 2016 in their first season in Saskatchewan.
The Rush celebrate winning the NLL championship.
    The Rush left Edmonton following the 2015 campaign after the club was unable to secure a long-term lease deal.
    Reflecting on Saturday’s outing along with his long career, Shattler said that one ranks with his best performances.
    “I would have to say it would be one up there,” said Shattler. “It was one of the biggest ones.
    “It was amazing. I’ll never forget this night. Absolutely amazing I got to share it with my wife and this family of mine behind me.
    “We’re the champs this year, and we will be back harder next year.”

“Mission accomplished” Rush gamer for The Canadian Press

A number of veteran Rush players pose with the NLL Cup.
    On Saturday, I had the opportunity to cover Game 3 of the NLL championship series for The Canadian Press.
    The Canadian Press game story focused on the fact the Rush accomplished a mission to once again win the NLL title after being swept 2-0 in the 2017 NLL championship series by the Georgia Swarm.      That story talked about how the first quarter in Game 3 on Saturday between the Rush and Knighthawks was a defensive struggle.
    The Knighthawks scored the game’s first goal with 44.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
    From there, the offences on both sides exploded in a back-and-forth battle. The Rush weren’t able to seal victory until scoring the final four goals in the fourth quarter.
    My story for The Canadian Press laid out on the website of the Ottawa Citizen can be found right here.

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Saturday, 9 June 2018

Rush Nation ready for a championship celebration

The scene after Jeff Cornwall’s NLL title winning goal in 2016.
    It was a madhouse at the SaskTel Centre.
    On June 4, 2016, the Saskatchewan Rush were looking to close out their first season in Saskatoon by capturing the National Lacrosse League championship. The Rush led the best-of-three series 1-0 over the Buffalo Bandits posting an 11-9 victory in Game 1 of the set in Buffalo on May 28, 2016.
    In Game 2 in Saskatoon, the Rush and Bandits were locked in a 10-10 tie, when a signature moment at the SaskTel Centre broke for the home side.
    Rush defender Jeff Cornwall picked up a loose ball in his own zone on a long rebound from a shot taken by a Bandits player. Cornwall broke into the clear on a breakaway and scored the winning goal off his coast-to-coast rush with 12 seconds to play.
Rush captain Chris Corbeil raises the Champion’s Cup in 2016.
    As the Rush went ahead 11-10, the sellout crowd of 15,182 spectators seemed to lose their mind celebrating into delirium. That moment might have been the loudest a crowd has ever cheered during a sporting event at the SaskTel Centre.
    The noise didn’t dissipate as the final 12 second ticked away and the 11-10 score in favour of the Rush held up as a final allowing them to sweep the series 2-0. The Rush had won their second straight NLL title with the first win coming in 2015 when the club was still located in Edmonton.
    The victory marked a rare time any local professional team from Saskatoon had won a championship on home turf.
    Tonight (Saturday night) at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre, Rush Nation hopes to experience another championship celebration on home turf.
Rush Nation in action in Game 1 of this year’s NLL Championship series.
    The Rush, who are 16-5 including action in the regular season and playoffs, face the Rochester Knighthawks, who are 13-9 in the regular season and post-season, meet in a winner take all Game 3 of the NLL Championship series.
    The best-of-three series is tied 1-1 with each side claiming a victory in convincing fashion. The Rush posted a 16-9 victory in Game 1 on May 26 at the SaskTel Centre. The Knighthawks responded with a 13-8 win in Game 2 on June 2 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
Rush Nation cheers a goal in Game 1 of this year’s NLL title series.
    The attendance for the Rush’s first two home playoff games has come in just shy of 12,000 in each of those contests. Now that the Rush near the end of their third season in Saskatchewan, it seemed some fans have been sitting on their hands during the post-season waiting for the game that will have a trophy presentation and a possible victory party at the end of the night.
    In Game 3 of the NLL Championship series, you will likely see Rush Nation at their raucous best. Attendance should approach or surpass 15,000 as people get the impulse itch to be part of something that doesn’t happen every day.
A couple of fans celebrate a Rush goal in Game 1 of this year’s NLL final.
    The Rush hold the SaskTel Centre record for a biggest crowd at a sporting event drawing 15,192 spectators on May 21, 2016, when they beat the Calgary Roughnecks to win that year’s West Division final.
    That win concluded a best-of-three series that the Rush swept 2-0.
    The fact their NLL championship clinching win drew 10 less spectators likely had more to do with how many people the fire marshall allowed into the box seats.
    With all that in mind, a Rush victory isn’t a guarantee as Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc and his defensive teammates will have a lot to say about the final outcome in Game 3. 
Ryan Keenan and Rush Nation hope Saturday night will be alright.
    Still, fans could be treated with another magical moment like the one Cornwall had two years ago that would lead to the Rush capturing the brand new National Lacrosse League Cup, which replaces the Champion’s Cup. Rush Nation will be satisfied with any type of victory by the host side be it a lopsided one or a barnburner type one in order to have a party once again that could go long into the night.
    No matter the end result, the deciding Game 3 of the NLL Championship series will provide a night everyone in attendance will remember for a long time.

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Friday, 8 June 2018

Hurricanes wildcard in chase to host 2020 Memorial Cup

The Hurricanes are in the mix to host the 2020 Memorial Cup.
    It appears a team from the WHL’s Western Conference might not be a lock to host the Memorial Cup in 2020.
    For the longest time, a common consensus among those that follow the WHL was that a club from the Western Conference would host the Memorial Cup tournament when the circuit’s turn came up in 2020. The last four times the WHL has hosted the CHL championship tournament it was held by a club from the Eastern Conference.
    Brandon hosted in 2010, Saskatoon in 2013, Red Deer in 2016 and Regina hosted the 100th Memorial Cup this past May.
    Vancouver was the last Western Conference centre from the WHL to hold the Memorial Cup back in 2007, when the host Giants downed the WHL champion Medicine Hat Tigers 3-1 in the event’s title game.
    WHL teams had until May 31 to express interesting in bidding to be the host club for the 2020 Memorial Cup. The Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals were expected to file letters of intent, and they all did.
    Each of those clubs had made it known for a while that they would be in the chase to host the Memorial Cup.
    The Lethbridge Hurricanes also filed a letter of intent to express their interest to bid on the 2020 Memorial Cup.
Dylan Cozens (#24) is expected to be a big star for the Hurricanes.
    That development came out of the blue, because there was no noise at all coming out of Lethbridge that the Hurricanes were thinking about hosting the CHL’s championship tournament.
    No announcements have been made by the WHL to make any of this official. That is likely due to the fact that team executives are trying to squeeze in vacation and down time with this year’s Memorial Cup wrapping up on May 27.
    The four teams that were interested in bidding on the 2020 Memorial Cup were revealed by Bruce Hamilton, who is the Rockets general manager, president and owner and chairman of the WHL board of Governors, on a radio station in Kelowna.
    Lethbridge is slated to host the U Sports national men’s hockey championship – the University Cup – from March 14 to 17 in 2019 with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns as the host team.
    If the Hurricanes host the 2020 Memorial Cup, it would mark another major milestone in the WHL club’s resurgence.
    Lethbridge missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons from 2009-10 to 2014-15. After the Hurricanes went 12-55-2-3 in the 2013-14 season, it seemed a death watch was surrounding the team. The Hurricanes existence in Lethbridge was called into question at times.
    Lethbridge was not a prime destination in the WHL, and it seemed like players that were there couldn’t wait to leave.
In two seasons, Calen Addison has become a star offensive defenceman.
    Things started to change when the Hurricanes hired Peter Anholt as the club’s assistant general manager before the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The veteran coach and hockey executive became the team’s head coach and general manager halfway through that campaign.
    Before the start of the 2015-16 season, he stepped back as head coach and made the inspired move to hire Brent Kisio for that role.
    The Hurricanes took off and topped the Central Division in 2015-16 with a 46-24-1-1 record before being eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
    In 2016-17, the Hurricanes posted a 44-21-4-3 mark to sit seventh overall in the league. They won two seven game series in the playoffs to advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series falling to the Regina Pats in six games.
    During a reloading campaign this past season, the Hurricanes returned to the playoffs with a 33-33-6 record. In the post-season, the Hurricanes took out the Red Deer Rebels in five games in the first round and the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games in the second round to return to the Eastern Conference Championship series.
    Lethbridge put up a big fight in the Eastern Conference Championship series falling in six games to the eventual WHL champion Swift Current Broncos.
Jadon Joseph could be a Hurricanes overager in 2019-20.
    While the Hurricanes have outstanding people in the front office and coaching ranks, they are projecting to have a potentially strong roster in the 2019-20 season.
    Centres Dylan Cozens and Logan Barlage have come off strong 16-year-old rookie seasons, and they would be in their 18-year-old campaigns in 2019-20. They both could be established WHL stars in their 18-year-old seasons.
    Forwards Owen Blocker and Keltie Jeri-Leon had sound 17-year-old campaigns, and both could potentially be 19-year-old standouts in 2019-20.
    Calen Addison had a spectacular 17-year-old sophomore campaign as an offensive defenceman piling up 11 goals and 54 assists in 68 regular season games. He would be in his 19-year-old season in 2019-20 campaign.
    The Hurricanes had a pair of towering rearguards in Nolan Jones, who stands 6-foot-2, and Alex Cotton, who stands 6-feet, appear in a handful of regular season games in their 16-year-old campaigns. They could potentially be part of the core of a strong defensive unit in the 2019-20 campaign.
    Lethbridge has an outside chance of having current captain Jordy Bellerive, who has a signed three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and skilled centre Jadon Joseph back for the 2019-20 campaign as overagers.
    In 2019-20, the Hurricanes could potentially have a mainly built through the draft type team that could win its way to the Memorial Cup, which would give them huge consideration in being the host team for that tournament.
Captain Jordy Bellerive is a potential overager for 2019-20.
    Fans have flocked back in droves to the Hurricanes home rink in the 4,093 seat Enmax Centre. When the Hurricanes took down the Wheat Kings 3-0 in a Game 5 second round series clinching win on April 13, they managed to pack 5,249 spectators into the Enmax Centre after standing room tickets were counted up.
    If you attended the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer, a number of locals there said they were high on attending the CHL championship tournament, if Lethbridge or Medicine Hat ever played host to it.
    The two front runners from the Western Conference have to be the Rockets and Royals. Kelowna has been an elite WHL franchise for about the last 18 years and last hosted the Memorial Cup in 2004.
    The Royals have a sound organization as well, while the Blazers have the potential to get in that mix but are going through some organizational changes.
    Originally, it appeared Kelowna and Victoria would put forward the strongest cases to host the 2020 Memorial Cup. With Lethbridge in the mix, that is no longer the case.
    The WHL board of governors looks to have a good problem on their hands in ultimately determining which centre will host the 2020 Memorial Cup.

Cooke departs Huskies to play pro in France

Netminder Jordon Cooke has signed a professional contract to play in France.
    It appears the Jordon Cooke era has come to an end for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Men’s Hockey team.
    On Wednesday when he turned 25-years-old, it was announced via the MacBeth Report that Cooke has signed a one-year contract to play goal professionally with Rapaces de Gap in the Ligue Magnus in France. Last season with the Huskies, Cooke appeared in 23 regular season games posting a 16-7 record, a 2.29 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and three shutouts.
    The Leduc, Alta., product suffered a knee injury in the Huskies first playoff game on Feb. 22, which knocked him out of action for the rest of the post-season.
    During his career with the Huskies that spanned four seasons from 2014 to 2018, Cooke appeared in 86 regular season games posting a 59-25-2 record, a 2.38 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
Jordon Cooke (#32) enjoys a win with Collin Shirley (#11).
    He sits second all-time on the Huskies career list for regular season wins (59) and saves (2,358).
Cooke was the U Sports goaltender of the year and a U Sports first team all-Canadian in 2015-16 and 2016-17. This past season, Cooke was the Canada West goaltender of the year, a Canada West first team all-star and a second team U Sports all-Canadian.
    Before joining the Huskies, Cooke played four seasons in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets from 2010 to 2014. He appeared in 149 regular season games posting a 92-34-12 record, a 2.54 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and nine shutouts.
    He was the CHL goaltender of the year in the 2013-14 campaign.

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Thursday, 7 June 2018

Rush and Knighthawks battle for history in Game 3 of NLL final

Rush D Matt Hossack, left, looks get past Knighthawks D Luc Magnan.
    The story on the turf will be as interesting as the spectacle that usually surrounds games, when the Saskatchewan Rush play at home.
    On Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre, the host Saskatchewan Rush face the Rochester Knighthawks in a winner take all Game 3 of the National Lacrosse League Championship series. The Rush took Game 1 by a 16-9 score at the SaskTel Centre on May 26.
    The Knighthawks evened the series with a 13-8 victory in Game 2 on June 2 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
    Both teams are a win away from adding to their respective championship legacies. Both are hoping to capture the brand new National Lacrosse League Cup, which replaces the Champion’s Cup as the circuit’s championship trophy.
    The Rush are the team that is all about right now. Most of their players are in the prime of their playing days right now, have won in the past and are built to win in the present.
    They have an elite coaching staff led by head coach and general manager Derek Keenan.
    The Rush won their first NLL title in 2015 during the franchise’s final season in Edmonton, Alta. At the time, the Rush was as a very young team, and it was viewed the squad’s best days were still in the future.
    They repeated as NLL champs in 2016 during the club’s first campaign in Saskatchewan.
Defenceman Scott Campbell (#37) is a steady NLL veteran.
    Their run for three straight titles came to an end a year ago, when the Rush were swept 2-0 in the NLL title series by the Georgia Swarm. The sweep was completed with a Swarm 15-14 overtime victory at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Rush returned this season as a hungry club. When you win a league title in two straight seasons, you start expecting to win it every season. Last year’s loss to the Swarm was met with great disappointment.
    Saskatchewan rolled to a 14-4 record to finish first overall in the NLL regular season standings. The Rush are 16-5 including action in the regular season and the playoffs heading into Game 3 with the Knighthawks.
    The Rush are a team that is loaded with personable stars. Forward Mark Matthews topped the NLL in regular season scoring with 116 points and set a new NLL record for most assists in one regular season at 84.
    Forward Robert Church topped all Rush players with 47 goals in the regular season and placed second in the NLL scoring race with 107 points. Captain Chris Corbeil and fan favourite Jeremy Thompson pace the defensive and transition side.
    Matthews, Church, Corbeil and Thompson were all key members of the two NLL title wins by the Rush.
    Sophomore forward Ryan Keenan, who is Derek’s son, and sophomore defender Matt Hossack are looking to taste an NLL title for the first time.
    Veteran goalie Evan Kirk, who was acquired in a trade with the New England Black Wolves in the off-season, is trying to experience his first NLL championship in his seventh season.
Rush F Jeff Shattler (#77) passes the ball to a teammate.
    If the Rush win, they will cement their status as the NLL’s team of the present and add to a storied run they have built in the three previous campaigns.
    The Knighthawks are trying to return to their championship form that just existed a short time ago. Back in 2014, they competed a run of winning the NLL title in three straight seasons. They have won five NLL titles and are trying to join the Toronto Rock and the reborn Philadelphia Wings for most NLL championships won by one club at six.
    For a while, it looked like the 2018 campaign might be a write off for the Knighthawks, who stumbled out of the gate to start the regular season at 2-6. Since that start, the Knighthawks finished the regular season with a 10-8 mark, and they are 11-3 in their last 14 games including action in both the regular season and playoffs.
    Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen and his staff have played a bit part in the turnaround. Hasen has been the team’s head coach since 2011.
    Matt Vinc, who won the NLL’s goaltender of the year award five times, and veteran star forward Cody Jamieson were integral to the Knighthawks run of three straight title wins from 2012 to 2014 and would love to return to the league’s mountaintop.
    Joe Resetarits led the Knighthawks in regular season scoring with 37 goals and 63 assists. He came to the Knighthawks in a trade with the Buffalo Bandits partway through the 2015 campaign. He is hoping to experience his first NLL championship in his sixth season in the league.
    Veteran defenceman Scott Campbell has continued to be steady on the backend for Rochester playing in his 14th season in the league. The 36-year-old hopes to experience his fourth league championship with the Knighthawks.
Knighthawks D Brad Gillies, left, defends against Rush F Mark Matthews.
    Campbell leads a tough defensive group that contains a pair of talented 25-year-old players in Luc Magnan and Graeme Hossack, who are both in search for their first NLL title win. Graeme Hossack is Matt Hossack’s older brother.
    So far, both teams have earned convincing victories in this series on their home turfs.
    Adding to the intrigue, this will mark the first time a full 60-minute contest with overtime will be held to decide a winner take all Game 3 in the NLL Championship series.
    The Knightshawks won a Game 3 in the NLL title series back in 2014, but that was by a 3-2 score in a 10-minute mini-game against the Calgary Roughnecks.
    The script for Saturday’s contest could play out in any type of fashion from a close game to a romp. In any way that it does play out, the spectators will see something special.

Trading Bridge would be unwise for Roughriders

Some Roughriders fans feel Brandon Bridge (#16) should be dealt for assets.
    The Saskatchewan Roughriders would be unwise to shrink their quarterback depth at this stage of the game.
    A number of the team’s fans saw a chance for the CFL club to add assets, when Winnipeg Blue Bombers star starting quarterback Matt Nichols was lost to injury on a non-contact play during a team practice on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Bombers announced Nichols was lost for four-to-six weeks with a right knee injury.
    Last season, Nichols was sensational for the Bombers completing 411 of 579 passes for 4,472 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Winnipeg finished second in the West Division with a 12-6 record. The Bombers fell 39-32 in the West semifinal to the Edmonton Eskimos.
    Almost immediately after Nichols went down, a number of Roughriders fans began to speculate on what the team might be able to acquire by trading backup quarterback Brandon Bridge to the Bombers. That move would not be wise.
    In most seasons, only about two to three quarterbacks on average in the CFL start all of their team’s contests during an 18-game regular season.
    In early January, the Roughriders acquired veteran starter Zach Collaros in a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and signed him to a restructured contract. The 29-year-old is the odds on favourite to be the starter this season.
Zach Collaros is pegged to be the Roughriders starting quarterback.
    During his previous six seasons in the league, Collaros has only twice appeared in more than 13 regular season games. He lost his job as the Tiger-Cats starting quarterback halfway through last season completing 167 of 266 passes for 1,767 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Hamilton missed the playoffs with a 6-12 record.
    Last season with the Roughriders, Bridge won his one start and came off the bench in numerous other contests completing 92-of-138 passes for 1,236 yards, 10 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He also ran the ball 20 times for 127 yards and scored one major.
    During last year’s 25-21 Eastern Final loss to the eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts, Bridge came off the bench for the Roughriders completing 11-of-21 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown.
    While it is expected both Collaros and Bridge will play well, there is still a possibility one or the other could falter besides the fact the injury bug could bit at any time over a long campaign. You need to have at least two good quarterbacks to make it through a CFL campaign.
    At the moment, the Roughriders would be wise to hold on to both Collaros and Bridge. Saskatchewan closes the pre-season hosting the Calgary Stampeders on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.

Could Stanley be “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon?”

    The Washington Capitals with captain Alexander Ovechkin finally won it, and hockey’s most cherished prize will likely be making a stop in Saskatoon.
    On Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Capitals defeated the host Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final. With the win, the Capitals claimed the best-of-seven series 4-1 to win the NHL title for the first time in the franchise’s 44 seasons of existence.
    The Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup final playing in their expansion season.
    Capitals 24-year-old centre Chandler Stephenson is from Saskatoon and star 28-year-old goalie Braden Holtby, who is from Lloydminster on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, is an alum of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
    In a post-game interview with CBC, Stephenson said he was going to bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt for sure. Stephenson said he knew a couple of people on the Humboldt Broncos bus that was involved in a tragic accident on April 6 heading to a junior A playoff game in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in Nipawin to face the host Hawks.
    One of those friends was Broncos centre Brayden Camrud, who was in Vegas on Thursday night to see the Capitals win the Stanley Cup.
    A total of 16 players and Broncos staff members were killed in that crash and 13 players were injured. Since that crash, people worldwide have rallied to help those involved in the accident and the small city of Humboldt.
    Stephenson grew up playing his minor hockey in Saskatoon before joining the WHL’s Regina Pats. In four seasons with the Pats from 2010 to 2014, Stephenson appeared in 230 regular season games piling up 73 goals and 122 assists.
    From 2006 to 2009, Holtby appeared in 177 regular season games with the Blades posting an 82-75-15 record, a 2.87 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and seven shutouts. He still holds the Blades career record for most saves in the regular season at 4,576 and his 177 career regular season games played is also a record for most games played by a Blades netminder.

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