Brothers Brought the Cup Home
A championship is certainly something special. For the Edmonton Rush, claiming their first NLL Champion's Cup might be even more special because of group itself.
"I think this is the closest team anywhere in any sport," said Rush star forward and Champion's Cup MVP Mark Matthews.
"We're brothers. We argue, we fight, and we have fun. We do everything as a family. To win with a group like this is amazing."
A family-type surrounding was probably the only way the Rush could have gone right to the top this season. There were without their immensely popular GM/head coach Derek Keenan at the start as he wife Wendy bravely but ultimately lost her fight with cancer. The team had some good moments early on after an 0-2 start then struggled through two home-turf losses, both in overtime to arch-rivals Calgary and Toronto. The doubters started to weigh in their opinions but the Rush tossed them aside. Then the Rush were set to collide with Calgary in the West Final - a rematch of last season's playoff clash that saw the Roughnecks eliminated the favored Rush on their home floor. After outlasting Calgary, it was off to the Cup final and while the Rush were 1-2 in the standings with Toronto, the veteran-laden Rock were seen as a tough mountain to climb for the young Rush.
Yet when it was all over, the Rush stood tall over the rest of the NLL with the Champion's Cup being passed from commissioner George Daniel to Rush captain Chris Corbeil in front of the largest crowd of the season - a fact not lost on anyone as the Rush struggled all season to gain much-deserved attention.
All the trials and tribulations of the season were forgotten at the moment when the Cup became the Rush's property. In the end it was all worth it.
"It was definitely a roller coaster year but I couldn't be happier to have been a part of it," said Matthews, who finished the playoffs with 13 goals and 27 points including five goals and eight points in Game against Toronto.
Matthews had a terrific regular season, finishing second in league scoring and breaking all the Rush franchise-highs along the way. His performance in the playoffs, however, set him apart from the rest of the NLL's top guns and should earn him the same type of reputation as many other big names in Edmonton's storied sports history. Matthews' dip-and-dunk goal, a shorthanded marker in Game 2, was one of the most impressive feats in Rush history, and perhaps one of the greatest goals ever scored at Northlands where under various names the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier put home some stellar shots.
"That's what great players do. Offensively, he put us on his back and carried us," said Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan.
"A lot of times a team is very effective getting offense from a group, and then there are other times that you need one guy to step up and be the guy. This was one of those times."
At the other end of the floor, Rush goalie Aaron Bold got the better of his Rock counterpart Brandon Miller in an outstanding goaltending duel in Game 2. Both stoppers made brilliant saves along the way - Miller early to keep the Rock in the game, and Bold late especially an absolute robbery with less than a minute left off Colin Doyle after the Rush had gone ahead.
Like Keenan, Bold has battled issues on the home front. Bold's life partner Michelle is in the midst of fight with cancer. Still, Bold showed up every week and posted numbers that will surely have him in the hunt for the NLL's Goaltender of the Year award. He may have fought the ball a bit in the West Final against Calgary but against Toronto, Bold was superb.
"He's a big-time goaltender now," said Keenan of Bold's efforts including a league-best 9.39 goals-against average in the playoffs.
"We could not have done it without him. He's gone through a hard time this year but he's part of our family and we've stuck together."
On the turf and backed by the stingiest defense in the league, Bold was able to wall up the net. Of the turf, Bold was propped up his teammates when the going got very tough during Michelle's fight.
"At times it weighed on my mind, but I wanted to do it for her," said Bold. "She's such a big positive image in my life. She's so strong she lifts me up, and I was able to lift her up when she needed it.
"I've spent 10 years in this league, and on and off the floor, this is the first time there isn't one guy on this team I wouldn't want to hang out with. We all sacrificed. We wanted to battle together.
"We faced adversity and sometimes we fell short but we didn't take anything for granted. We wanted to push forward and achieve something. We didn't want Toronto get the upper hand in Game 2 and get the series back to the ACC. We wanted this one and achieved our goal."
Fans Take Stand: If there was any doubt that Edmonton wants the Rush as part of the city's sports scene, it hopefully disappeared as Game 2 of the Champion's Cup drew more than 12,000 fans who were into the fever-pitch emotions right from the opening faceoff through to the confetti drop. The Rush outdrew the Rock by more than 3,000 fans in the Champion's Cup series.
"They were unbelievable and so loud," Rush GM/head coach Derek Keenan. "I said to Jeff and Jimmy (assistant coaches McComb and Quinlan) before the game there would be no coaching from the bench because there's no way the guys will hear you. We just let the horses out of the barn and let them run.
"I definitely hope there's a great future in Edmonton. The support we got was so good to see."
Fitting Right In: Matthew Dinsdale may go down as one of the best trade-deadline acquisitions in NLL history. After coming over from Calgary, Dinsdale notched 18 points in five regular-season games with the Rush and followed that up with 13 points in five playoff games. Dinsdale scored just two goals in the playoffs but his second was monumental - the game-winner in Game 2 that clinched the series and the title for the Rush with just 1:02 left in regulation time.
"He had a pretty quiet night and didn't many good looks but he got the ball and buried it," said Matthews of Dinsdale's mega-timely goal. "He just stepped right in with the group and was great."
Speed Demon: For the second time in the playoffs, the Rush's Jeff Cornwall scored a highlight-reel goal. He gunned home the game-winner with an incredible sprint in Game 3 of the West Final against Calgary, and in Game 2 against Toronto, the speedy transition player unleashed his feet to blow past the Rock's Kevin Crowley and get the Rush on the board in the first quarter.
"He's one of the few guys in the league who can do it that well," Rush coach Derek Keenan told Lacrosse Magazine.
"He's a powerful runner. He played great defense all night, too. He was just outstanding throughout the whole playoffs. We had a lot of scoring chances early in the game but (Rock goalie Brandon) Miller was awesome. Then Jeff broke through and got us going."
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National Lacrosse League Stories from June 9, 2015
- Brothers Brought the Cup Home - Edmonton Rush
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