Rush vs. Thunderbirds Game Notes
Saskatchewan Rush (4-2) vs. Halifax Thunderbirds (6-1)
5:00 PM CST, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2020
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Having won three of their last four games, including their first of the season on home turf, the Saskatchewan Rush head to the Canadian Maritimes for a first-ever matchup against the Halifax Thunderbirds.
The Rush are coming off a clutch 9-7 victory over the Colorado Mammoth last Saturday in Saskatoon, giving them a one-and-a-half game lead in the NLL's West Division over both Vancouver and Calgary. Saskatchewan also has three games in-hand on Vancouver, one game in-hand on Calgary and four games in-hand on fourth-place Colorado.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds had last weekend off after seeing their unbeaten start to the season come to an end a week earlier with a loss at Toronto. But Halifax continues to lead the NLL's new North Division by a half-game over Buffalo and one game on Toronto.
This is the only meeting of the season between the Rush and Thunderbirds. The Halifax team was previously located in Rochester, but moved to Nova Scotia at the end of the 2018-19 season and were replaced in Rochester by an expansion franchise.
The Rush sported a 13-3 regular-season record against the "old" Knighthawks franchise, including a 12-7 win last season. In that game, the Rush scored five unanswered goals in third quarter, highlighted by back-to-back goals 1:06 apart from Ben McIntosh. Robert Church (2 goals, 5 assists) and Mark Matthews (3 goals, 4 assists) each had seven-point nights to spark the Rush attack, with goals also going to Mike Messenger, with a pair, Ryan Keenan and Marty Dinsdale.
Saskatchewan and the "old" Rochester franchise have some storied history when it comes to playoff matchups. After losing the single-game 2012 championship final 9-7 to the Knighthawks, the Rush gained their revenge by beating Rochester 2-1 in the best-of-three NLL Cup Final in 2018. The Rush won Game 3 15-10 in Saskatoon to take the series and Jeff Shattler was name the NLL Cup MVP.
LAST GAME: The Rush broke open a tight, defensive-minded contest with four goals in the fourth quarter to gain the victory over Colorado. It was a key win for the Rush as they stayed on top of the West Division, claimed the season-series with the Mammoth, and earned a measure of revenge after losing two straight on their home turf to Colorado. Ryan Keenan, Jeff Shattler and Ben McIntosh each scored twice for the Rush with singles going to Chris Corbeil, Jeff Cornwall and Matt Hossack. Evan Kirk turned aside 33 shots in the Rush net.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Rush (3-0) and New England Black Wolves (2-0) are the only NLL teams that are undefeated on the road so far this season.
MILESTONE MINUTE: With four assists last weekend against Colorado, the Rush's Robert Church moved over the 500-point mark for his NLL career. Rush forward Jeff Shattler needs one assist to reach 500 for his NLL careers that his included a regular-season MVP (2011), Transition Player of the Year (2011) and NLL Cup MVP (2018).
ALTERNA CUP: This game will be the Rush's first in the new Alterna Cup series for the 2019-20 season. The Alterna Cup is a season-long competition tracking the head-to-head matchups between the Canadian NLL teams with the championship going to the team with the best record in those games. The Toronto Rock currently lead the Alterna Cup race with a 1-0 record after beating Halifax. The Thunderbirds and Calgary Roughnecks are 1-1 and the Vancouver Warriors are 0-1.
FAMILIAR FACES: Although the Thunderbirds are new to the NLL, several of their players were on last season's team based in Rochester and a number of them have previously played for the Rush. T-Birds second-leading scorer Ryan Benesch played for the Rush in 2009 and third-leading scorer Mike Burke was the Rush's third-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. He played just two games for the Rush in 2014. Halifax's Chris Boushy was the Rush's third-round draft pick in 2017, but never played a regular-season game, and Pete Dubenski had two stints in Saskatchewan as a backup and third-string netminder.
Defenceman Scott Campbell had a short stint with the Rush last season, coming over from Rochester in exchange for a 2022 second-round draft pick before re-joining his Rochester mates in Halifax this season as a free-agent signing.
Statistically Speaking: Mark Matthews leads the Rush in points (27) and assists (19), while Ben McIntosh leads the team with 10 goals. McIntosh has scored eight goals in his last three games ... Cody Jamieson leads Halifax with 30 points while Stephen Keogh, ex of Colorado, is tops with 15 goals ... The Rush power play is ranked seventh in the NLL at 45.5% (10-for-22) with Mark Matthews tied for 11th in the league with seven power-play assists. The Rush are ranked 11th on the penalty kill at 47.6% (11 goals allowed in 21 shorthanded situations ... Halifax has the league's number-two ranked power play at 51.7% (15-for-29) and second-ranked penalty kill at 64.3% (10 goals allowed in 28 shorthanded situations). The Thunderbirds' PK has had to be good as they lead the NLL with 42 minor penalties and are second averaging 16.14 penalty minutes per game. Nankon Thompson of the T-Birds took a league-high five minors in a game back on Jan. 18 ... The Rush are the least-penalized team in the league at just 7.33 penalty minutes per game ... Rush defenceman Ryan Dilks leads the NLL with 16 caused turnovers and teammate Mike Messenger is tied for 12th with 10 caused turnover. Dilks has the league's single-game high so far this season as well with five ... The Rush's Kyle Rubisch is tied for 22nd in the league with 51 loose ball scoops ... Halifax's Jake Withers is third in loose balls with 84 and second in the league with 137 faceoff wins. He also boasts the league's single-game highs so far this season with 22 loose balls and 27 faceoff wins ... 2018-29: Last season, the Rush's Mark Matthews finished in a tie for third in the NLL scoring race, knotting Georgia's Lyle Thompson with 105 points. Matthews finished tied for seventh in assists (64) and tied for fourth in goals at 41 with teammate Ben McIntosh ... Jeff Shattler of the Rush led the NLL with five game-winning goals ... Saskatchewan ended the season with the top-ranked power play at 57.4%, scoring 31 goals on 54 power-play opportunities. That was the fewest opportunities in the league - 10 less than Georgia ... The Rush's Jeremy Thompson led the NLL with 208 loose-ball scoops and he wound up third in faceoff wins with 263 ... Rush defenceman Kyle Rubisch was tops in the NLL with 45 caused turnovers.
By the Numbers: Rush goaltender Evan Kirk is tops in the NLL with a 8.69 goals-against average. Coming off his 33-save effort against Colorado, Kirk is also sixth in the league with a .814 save-percentage ... Halifax's Warren Hill leads all NLL goalie with six wins and he is fourth in both goals-against average (9.00) and save-percentage (.819) ... The Rush's Robert Church has 10 points in the league's Three Stars Award race (2 x First Place) and right behind him are teammates Evan Kirk and Ben McIntosh both with nine points (1 x First Star, 1 x Second Star, 1 x Third Star) ... Saskatchewan sits second in the NLL's attendance derby with an average of 11,881 per game. Halifax sits eighth at 6,741 ... The Rush have outscored their opponents 16-11 in first quarter play so far this season ... The Rush are 3-0 on the year when leading at halftime and after three quarters ... The Rush lead in the NLL with an average of 8.7 goals against per game and are 12 in goals scored per game at 9.2. The Thunderbirds are second in goals scored per game at 12.1 and third in goals allowed per game at 9.2 ... 2018-19: Saskatchewan won the NLL attendance derby again last season with an average of 13,459 which was 413 better than Buffalo ... The Rush finished the season first in the West with 222 goals. They were third in goals scored per game average with 12.33 and fourth in goals allowed at 11.22 per game ... The Rush ended the regular season with 7-2 record at home and 9-3 versus the West. They were also 9-1 when leading after the first quarter, 10-0 when leading at halftime, 10-0 when leading after three quarters.
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