Saskatoon, Sask. – The players didn’t make it easy on the general manager and head coach, as they gave him plenty to think about, but after some deliberation and pontification, Derek Keenan has set the roster for the 2018 edition of the Saskatchewan Rush.
After the Rush’s 24-9 walloping of the Georgia Swarm in the final pre-season tilt, Keenan and his coaching staff went to work to finalize the team’s lineup. The first real opportunity to see this roster in action comes in the season-opener on December 16th when the Rush visit the Toronto Rock. The Rush then open the home portion of their schedule on Co-op Field at SaskTel Centre on December 23rd when they take on the New England Black Wolves.
Up front, the Rush are pretty well locked in with the same group they’ve run with for the past year or so with a couple of alterations. The biggest changes comes in the form of off-season free-agent acquisition Jeff Shattler, who slides in “seamlessly” according to Keenan, onto the left side as the veteran brings an all-around skill set particularly in transition and in a set-up role. He’s joined by offensive dynamo Mark Matthews, second-year sensation Ryan Keenan, and the versatile Dan Taylor.
Saskatchewan’s right side boasts some of the NLL’s top offensive talent with quick-stick specialist Ben McIntosh, power-play triggerman extraordinaire Robert Church, the resurgent Curtis Knight, and onetime Champion’s Cup hero Marty Dinsdale.
On the back end, the Rush continue to have one of the strongest defensive units ever assembled in the NLL anchored by team captain Chris Corbeil, four-time Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Rubisch, 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Dilks, and the team’s longest-serving member Brett Mydske. That quartet are joined by breakout stars Mike Messenger and Matt Hossack, speedster Jeff Cornwall, key contributors Adrian Sorichetti and Jeremy Thompson, and Matt MacGrotty.
MacGrotty, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder who has spent the better part of the last three seasons on the practice roster, and Dinsdale have earned the respect of the coaches and players for their perseverance and willingness to keep the team’s goals ahead of their own.
“Matt came in last year when we needed him and fit in very well. He has earned his spot this year and now it’s up to him to keep it,” said Keenan. “It’s a similar situation with Marty. Two years ago, Knight came back from injury and Marty goes from scoring the winning goal in the Champion’s Cup to the practice roster. He could have signed elsewhere but he wanted to stick it out with us and it’s worked out well because he’s continually gotten better.”
Keenan’s hardest decision was determining who he wanted situated behind new number-one goaltender Evan Kirk. In the end, slimmed-down incumbent backup Tyler Carlson held his spot with former Rush draft pick Adam Shute coming back to the team as the third-stringer. That duo beat out last year’s fill-in netminder Peter Dubenski and journeyman Zack Boychuk.
“The biggest thing for Tyler was that he came to camp 20 pounds lighter,” noted Keenan. “He took it seriously that he had to perform well and he did. I was a bit surprised, but he played exceptionally. And it goes without saying what he means to the guys in the locker room and on the bench from a morale perspective. He’s such a good team guy and I think we have more faith in him now that he can do the job.
“Adam is the biggest of the three goalies. It does give us a different look if we need it, and he’s been with us before and knows the system. That’s not a knock on Dubenski or Boychuk because they played very well. They deserve to be somewhere but for now there’s only nine teams in the league.”
Joining Shute on Saskatchewan’s practice roster are most-recent second-round draft picks Nick Finlay and Johnny Pearson, and defenceman Tor Reinholdt, a late-season addition last year who filled in admirably when Corbeil was injured. Rugged defenceman Nik Bilic was placed on the Rush’s Physically Unable to Perform list as he has not yet recovered from the broken leg he suffered last season.
Physically Unable to Perform: