There isn’t much the Saskatchewan Rush didn’t accomplish this season as they fought their way to a fourth consecutive NLL Final appearance.
Dominating defence and relentless offence put them atop most statistical team categories, but one thing they couldn’t do this season was beat the Rochester Knighthawks, losing on the road and at home against the East division champs.
Saskatchewan has no choice but to solve that problem as they face off against the K-Hawks in a best-of-three NLL Final.
Head coach Derek Keenan knows his squad has its work cut out for itself.
“They won handily against us. They weren’t really close. It’s not like they got a fluke bounce and scored in overtime to win,” Keenan said. ” I felt both games, we lacked energy.”
Saskatchewan lost those games by scores of 16-11 and 13-10. Keenan feels his team didn’t dictate the pace of those games, something he stresses weekly.
“I think we did a great job of that against Calgary and we need to carry that over and be that much better.”
The 13-10 loss was largely due to the stellar play of Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc and his 43 saves. The 35-year-old veteran had a knack of stifling offences down the latter stretch of the season.
“Great between the pipes, they got a veteran goaltender who’s having a bit of a resurgence late in his career,” Rush captain Chris Corbeil said.
“They’re just a really good team.”
Corbiel stressed the need to sustain an attack throughout the entire game as a key to victory.
“We have to focus on playing a full 60 (minutes), especially against Rochester. We know they’re a great team and capable of coming back late in games and they’ve got a lot of experience in the big games.”
Finding motivation and encouragement shouldn’t be a problem for the Rush. The mostly veteran team has a leadership group that’s seen nearly every playoff circumstance before.
“We kind of have that nice balance of guys that have won a championship, have the experience winning in the big game and then those guys that are hungry to get their first,” Corbiel said. “You kind of need that, right?”
Most of the team won back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016, while the rest either lost in the 2017 finals or years prior with other NLL teams.
Jeff Shattler knows the big game experience well. The 13-year NLL veteran had his last championship opportunity taken away at the hands of the Knighthawks in 2014.
Dan Dawson was named MVP of those finals, helping Rochester become the first NLL franchise to win three consecutive championships.
Now, the two are teaming up to try and bring the Rush it’s third trophy in four years.
“I’m looking to go back there and take one,” Shattler said of 2014 Final loss. “I really don’t believe we played to our full potential in those two games.”
“We’ve got to give it everything we’ve got. We can’t go in there thinking we’re just going to go in there and win.”
A desire to redeem a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Georgia Swarm in last year’s final is adding to the motivation for victory for the Rush.
“We took it on the chin last year in the finals and now we have another opportunity,” Keenan said. “We’ve gotten to where we want to be and now it’s about finishing the job.”
With Game 1 taking place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sasktel Centre after a two-week break, Rush players said they are eager to get on the field and risk it all for another trophy.
“It doesn’t matter how many of these you get under your belt, the excitement of a championship series and a chance to win an NLL title is always going to be a lot,” Corbeil said.
“I’m chomping at the bit a little bit.”