Fans of the Saskatchewan Rush are going to have to wait more than a month to see the team raise its championship banner to the rafters of Sasktel Centre.
In a Thursday media release, the National Lacrosse League (NLL) cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season in the midst of a labour dispute between the NLL and the Professional Lacrosse Players Association (PLPA) that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight as both sides dig in to search for a long-term contract.
That has Rush super fan Kelvin Ooms disappointed.
Better known by his nickname, Rush Hulk, Ooms can be seen at every home game donning a Hulk costume and tattered Rush gear as he leads the fans at Sasktel Centre as the team’s unofficial mascot.
“It sucked,” Ooms said of his reaction to the cancellations. “It’s something that any lacrosse fan really didn’t want to hear.”
“We anticipated we might be hearing it, and it’s unfortunate that we did.”
Instead of hosting a game on Dec. 8, the Rush will have to wait until Jan. 5 for its first home game of the season, provided a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is ratified before then.
In a letter earlier in the week from NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz to PLPA president Peter Schmitz, Sakiewicz said games would have to be cancelled by Wednesday if the players did not accept the current offer on the table from the league. That deadline was extended into Thursday as players prepared another offer, but the league opted to continue with cancellations when that deal was refused.
“We must create a partnership for growth with the players, but we believe we must grow together with a strategy that fits within a reasonable business model,” the release stated before expanding on the negotiations. “A guaranteed 400 per cent increase in expenses without a corresponding guaranteed revenue increase is not something as stewards of the league we can responsibly agree to.”
The league added that it put a “very good and fair offer on the table, which includes a 25 per cent increase in salary and benefits for the players.”
The clock struck midnight on the league-imposed deadline to salvage a full-season NLL schedule after weeks of back-and-forth deliberations between the two parties, which included a one-year offer from the players.
“We are sorry the league chose not to accept either of our two proposals,” the PLPA said in a statement to LAX Sports Network. “Our proposal (Wednesday) would have us playing under the first two years of their seven-year proposal, with the prospect of a five-year term if an agreement on the definition and application of gross average team revenue is reached by 2020. Our one-year deal has never come off the table. Instead, they chose to inconvenience themselves by cancelling games.”
“We remain committed to a fair and transparent contract. We welcome dialogue around ways to create the partnership both sides deserve.”
While the language from both sides suggest the two sides remain far apart on any agreement, Ooms is hoping they come together before it’s too late.
“If something sits too long, people lose interest,” he said. “Fans want back in Sasktel Centre.”
“They want to start watching some lacrosse.”
Saskatchewan led the league in average attendance last year with 14,639.
Ooms is one rearing to get back into the arena.
“I want to look forward to getting out there and cheering and having fun with the rest of the fans and planning more bus trips,” Ooms said. “Let’s have some fun.”