The Saskatchewan Rush return to action Saturday with first place on the line.
The Rush can clinch first place in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) and claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Colorado Mammoth Saturday at SaskTel Centre.
The scenario presented itself after Colorado split a back-to-back weekend — beating Toronto 11-7 and losing to Rochester 16-14 — while the Rush were on a bye.
Head coach Derek Keenan likes that his team determines its own fate in the final weeks of the season.
“It’s a big game for us,” he said. “We’d like to close it out the right way in terms of doing it on our own and not hoping for help from somebody else.”
Saskatchewan is eager to return to SaskTel Centre faithful after losing its last outing to the Kinghthawks 13-10 on March 24.
Acknowledging that Rochester had the Rush’s number this year, Keenan is confident his team will bounce back against the Mammoth.
“We’ll regroup,” Keenan said. “Our guys are very good at grasping the challenge and they don’t take losing well, that’s for sure.”
“Rarely do we not play well two games in a row.”
He’s also hoping to take advantage of a tired Colorado team. The Mammoth played seven games in March (5-2), a rarity in the sport.
“We always have tight games against them,” he said. “They tend to be low-scoring, but they’re going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Built from the backend, Keenan believes the defence and goaltending from Colorado will make them a tough opponent.
Special teams could determine the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Colorado is behind only Saskatchewan for best road powerplay at 68.2 per cent, including scoring on five of its six powerplay opportunities in Rochester last week.
Colorado’s Ryan Benesch leads the NLL with 14 power-play goals while the Rush’s Robert Church is second with 13.
In any case, Keenan is hoping to accomplish his season-long goal and claim first place in the league.
“Win and we control our destiny,” Keenan said of Saturday’s importance. “We get a first round bye and if we’re fortunate enough to make it to the finals, we have the home floor.”
“It’s a big, big opportunity for us.”
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Wray Morrison.