In an opening 30 minutes that can only be described as complete domination, the Saskatchewan Rush jumped out to an 11-1 lead and cruised the rest of the way defeating the Colorado Mammoth by a final score of 13-8. With the win, the Rush (11-7) lock up first place in the Western Division for the sixth consecutive year, and will host the Mammoth in a one-game divisional semi-final at Sasktel Centre on Friday, May 3rd.
Coming off one of their worst losses in recent memory, the Rush looked like a team with something to prove. Unfortunately for the Mammoth, they walked into the lion’s den and got torn apart in the first half. A stifling Rush defence set the tone early as they relentlessly pressured the Mammoth forwards and forced them to settle on outside shots. Of those shots, a substantial amount were either blocked or deflected by fearless Rush defenders throwing themselves in the path of the ball. The all-world Kyle Rubisch led all players with a dazzling six caused turnovers and 13 loose balls.
When Colorado did get open looks, goaltender Evan Kirk was there to shut the door. Kirk stopped 46 of 54 shots, but it was a pair of incredible saves that earned him a first star selection. The initial save came when Julian Garritano broke in alone and attempted to pick the top right corner. Kirk threw up his left arm and was able to get a piece of the ball and deny Garritano. The second save was nearly identical to the first, but this time it was Jeremy Noble bearing down on Kirk who once again threw up the arm and took away a sure goal.
Right from the opening whistle, the Rush offense was all business and not surprisingly it was Mark Matthews quarterbacking the attack. A talented playmaker, Matthews used his ability to subtly distribute the ball from unique angles to generate multiple scoring chances. Combined with a lethal shot that lit the lamp twice, Matthews figured prominently in an opening eight-goal run that ultimately led to the Rush victory. Matthew Dinsdale contributed a first half hat trick and added one more for a total of four goals on the night.
During an on-field interview, Colorado’s head coach Pat Coyle summed up the first half in one word: “Horrible.”
After that forgettable first half, Coyle’s squad could have rolled over and played out the rest of the game and the season. Instead they managed to salvage some pride and outscore the Rush 7-2 in the final two quarters. Veteran goalie Dillon Ward, who was briefly pulled in the second quarter, opted to stay in the Mammoth crease and battle it out with the rest of his team. Another bright spot for Mammoth fans was the play of Noble who had been in the midst of a terrible four-month long goal-scoring slump. The fifth year righty finally broke through netting a hat trick and leading the Mammoth with four points on the night. Also of note, the Mammoth were without the services of their leading scorer Eli McLaughlin for the second straight game.
The Mammoth (6-12) will have their work cut out for them as they return to Sasktel Centre next Friday and attempt to solve the Rush in a divisional semi-final game. The Rush took all three regular season games by a combined score of 31-22.