NLL: Rush Looking to Rebound This Season

Ryan Keenan evades Paul Dawson. The Saskatchewan Rush host the Rochester Knighthawks at Sask Tel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, March 19, 2022. (Photo: Saskatchewan Rush/NLL)

The Saskatchewan Rush open their new season tonight when they play host to the defending champions, the Colorado Mammoth. The Rush are hoping this will be the start of a redemption story, after what can charitably be called a disappointing 2021-2022 season.

Last season, the Rush finished in fourth place in the West Division, with an 8-10 record. Since the team moved to Saskatoon in 2016 they had won the division six straight times prior to last year. Excellence is an expectation for the Rush and they fell well short of that target.

The team has made a number of significant changes in the offseason as the rebuilding effort went into effect. Gone are defensive stalwarts Chris Corbeil and Jeff Cornwall. Forward Jeff Shattler retired after last season, leaving a some big shoes to fill on the left side.

Ryan Keenan will likely be called upon to take on a bigger role in that lefty spot, alongside Mark Matthews. Righties Robert Church and Dan Lintner get help from Marty Dinsdale, coming back to the Rush after a year away. And highly touted rookie Austin Madronic will be expected to have an impact once he’s up to speed on the offensive strategy.

On defence, Kyle Rubsich and Ryan Dilks continue to anchor things, along with Mark Messenger and Matt Beers. But losing Corbeil and Cornwall means the Rush no longer have the relentless, smothering defensive squad they’ve come to be known for.

One of the biggest struggles last season was between the pipes. After years of elite goaltending from Evan Kirk, the combination of Eric Penney and Adam Shute were… fine. The Rush have added veteran Alex Buque between the pipes for this year, with the expectation that he can provide stability and consistency to the role.

Head coach Jimmy Quinlan has been with the Rush as a player and a coach for forever, so he understands what the team is about and how to win. The expectation is that he can elevate this roster back into playoff contention. Two pre-season wins are encouraging, but don’t necessarily tell the whole story.

Whether or not the Rush have done enough to be competitive this season starts to be answered tonight at 7 at SakTel Centre.