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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