Rush look to keep building in rematch vs. Stealth

Saskatchewan Rush forward Mark Matthews (42) is tied for first in the league in points scored with 49. -- Photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Rush Facebook page/Clark’s Crossing Gazette

Nearing the halfway point of their season and sitting in first place in the National Lacrosse League, the Saskatchewan Rush like their position, but they know they need to make improvements as they gear up for their final 10 games of the regular season.

That starts tomorrow, as the Rush (7-1) head to Vancouver for a rematch against the Stealth (1-7).

The two teams played to an 11-9 Rush win in Saskatoon last Saturday, but it almost went the other way for Vancouver.

After Saskatchewan jumped out to a 7-3 halftime lead, Vancouver outscored the home team 6-3 in the third quarter to pull within one goal of tying the game. The Rush held off the Stealth in the fourth quarter and managed one goal to emerge with the win.

According to the team’s head coach, Derek Keenan, and its captain, Chris Corbeil, playing consistently for a full game and having strong third quarters are improvement areas for the team.

“We had a heck of a tussle last weekend against them,” Keenan said. “We’re always playing teams that are desperate. We’re going to have to be ready; they’re a tough, tough team.”

Despite their win-loss record, the Stealth have been close in four of the seven games they’ve lost; among those four games – Dec. 29, Jan. 26, Jan. 27 and Feb. 3 – the largest margin of defeat has been by four goals.

Their lone win was a gritty 11-10 overtime victory against Buffalo on Jan. 13.

“They’ve got a ton of talent on offence. It’s only a matter of time before they get it together,” Keenan said.

Corbeil, who’s a defender/transition player for the Rush, agreed.

“They have a really dynamic offence. So we’re prepping for a team that can beat you sort of two-fold, from the outside and inside.

“They just added a really good left-hander on Feb. 5 in a trade with Buffalo – Pat Saunders. He’s a guy that adds another layer of depth to their offence, which I think they’ve been looking for.”

Saunders scored the game-winning, overtime goal for Buffalo against the Rush on Jan. 19 in Saskatoon. It’s been, so far, the Rush’s lone loss of the season.

“Defensively, (Vancouver has) been playing well … last game, it was one of our lowest, if not the lowest, offensive-production games I think we’ve had all season long.

“Our offence plays with a lot of motion, and it can be tough to pick up. They were doing a good job of dealing with that,” Corbeil explained.

In that game’s third quarter, the Rush scored three times, and then just once in the fourth quarter.

“We escaped with a two-goal win, but a couple bounces here and there, and it could’ve went differently. So we’re expecting a tight one this weekend,” the captain said.

Looking at that third quarter, Keenan underscored how his team has struggled through third quarters during this season, especially over its last three to four games.

Overall, eight games into the 18-game season, the Rush head coach said he’s pleased with his team’s win-loss record, but he wants to improve those deficiencies he’s seen through the last four games.

“We started really good; we went 4-0. Then we blew some big leads, like versus Buffalo, when we lost, and then in Calgary (on Feb. 2), we were lucky to win that one,” he said.

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 9, 2018 print edition or e-edition of the Daily Herald.