Keenan Becomes Winningest Coach in NLL History

PHOTO BY RYAN MCCULLOGH/NLL

Evan Kirk made 39 saves and limited Toronto to just nine goals in his Saskatchewan Rush debut Saturday.


Derek Keenan is the winningest head coach in National Lacrosse League history.

The Saskatchewan Rush general manager and coach was tied with former Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour with 121 wins going into his team’s game in Toronto on Saturday, and a 17-9 victory gave him the career regular season record. Troy Cordingley of the Bandits is third with 97. Late Bandits-Rock coach Les Bartley won 93 and late Calgary-Vancouver coach Chris Hall won 85.

“It’s nice, but it’s not about me,” Keenan said. “There are some good names on that list. I learned a lot from a lot of those guys, especially Les.”

Combining regular season and playoffs, Keenan has 136 wins and Kilgour 133. Bartley had 121, Cordingley has 111, and Hall had 96.

Keenan said he was antsy going into Air Canada Centre.

“I was nervous,” he said. “We didn’t play last week, we hadn’t played a game in a month since our last preseason game, and [the Rock] had played a game and were probably going to be hungry after losing in Buffalo. But we had a high focus level and the results were what we wanted.”

Keenan, 56, has been on eight championship pro indoor teams as either a player or coach. He was the NLL’s rookie of the year in 1992 and played on two Bandits title teams. He began coaching in the league as a Toronto assistant in 1999, winning four championships, and was head coach of teams in Anaheim and Portland before joining the Rush in Edmonton, where they won the 2015 title, and in Saskatoon, where they won again in 2016.

The Oshawa, Ontario, resident has won NLL awards for GM and coach of the year three times each.

“He’s a phenomenal guy on and off the floor,” Rush transition player Adrian Sorichetti said. “When it comes to coaching, he’s very consistent, very clear with details. He’s a great leader, someone we look to make the right decisions. Nobody deserves [the record] more than he does.”

“He demands hard work,” Rush goaltender Evan Kirk said. “You’ve got to do your job and do the little things. … He knows his stuff, has a great mind, and he’s a great person. Everyone wants to play for someone they really enjoy being coached by.”

“That’s awesome,” Rush forward Mark Matthews said of the coaching wins record. “It just goes to show what he’s done for the game. He brought this team from 1-15 [in 2006] to two championships and two other finals appearances.”







RUSH WANT TITLE BACK

Just how badly does Saskatchewan want to recapture the title it won in 2015 and in 2016 and relinquished to Georgia last spring?

“Extremely,” captain Chris Corbeil replied. “After what happened last season, and I put a lot of the onus on myself on how the season ended by letting Game 2 of the final slip away, we’re very motivated this year.”

“We need it,” Matthews added. “When you’re that close and lose, it’s tough to swallow. We’re a hungry group.”

Defensive diligence will be a key if the Rush hope to win a third championship.

“We like holding teams to single digits and we accomplished that,” Corbeil said. “There’s room for improvement. First game of the year, things are a bit rusty. We’ll hopefully tidy some things up, and if Evan Kirk (39 saves) keeps playing like that, we should be able to do better than nine [goals allowed]. I thought we actually did him a disservice in letting them get nine. There were a few they shouldn’t have had that were the result of weak turnovers by us. Still, we’re very happy with the result.”

Ben McIntosh led the Rush attack with five goals.

“It’s great to get off to a hot start,” he said. “Last season, we maybe took our feet off the gas a little bit. I don’t think we were playing quite as hard as we could have. There’s no question we’re coming into this year hungry.”

“He’s such a good player for us,” Keenan said of McIntosh. “He’s always been very consistent. He’s going to have nights like that because he’s such a good shooter, and he works so hard without the ball.”

“We’ve got an unselfish group,” Keenan added. “They don’t really care who gets the goals. There are going to be other guys this year who get five as well. Our whole offense contributed. We worked extremely hard in the preseason on having a little bit more ball movement and on being a little bit stronger in the middle.”

KIRK IMPRESSES

Kirk, acquired in the offseason in a trade with the New England Black Wolves, had a standout debut with his new team, stopping 39 of 48 shots on goal in Saskatchewan’s 17-9 win in Toronto.

“It was a long wait, to be honest,” he said. “I was pretty nervous going into [Saturday]. Let alone a new year, it’s a whole new team. I thought I was a little shaky in the first half, but our defense made it pretty easy. Everybody does his job, which made me feel comfortable.”

Keenan was happy with what he saw from the 2016 NLL Goalie of the Year.

“Early in the game, we were a little jittery and maybe a bit rusty and turned the ball over a couple of times,” he said. “He made some big saves. When you keep anybody under 10 in this league, that’s a big accomplishment. That’s a credit to our defense and to Evan.”

“He looked good,” Corbeil said. “That’s why we traded for him. We knew he’s a great goalie. He was great at camp and he was excellent [Saturday]. He showcased his talent. He’s a great student of the game. I’ve been thoroughly impressed.”

“He played very, very well,” Matthews said. “With a very skilled offense in that [Rock] group, to keep those guys under 10 is special. We’re excited to have Evan.”

Kirk is looking for his first NLL championship ring and is hopeful this will be the year he gets it.

“I’m extremely excited to be a part of this,” he said.

SCARY SIGHT

Matthews, the star forward and NLL MVP finalist, crumpled to the green carpet and writhed in pain in the sixth minute of the second quarter. He eventually got up and limped directly to the Rush dressing room. He reappeared with a few minutes left in the quarter and with his right knee wrapped. He sat on the end of the bench and didn’t take a shift until late in the quarter. He resumed a full role the rest of the way and finished with a goal and four assists.

Keenan didn’t enjoy seeing Matthews go down.

“I was a little nervous, especially when you think about the knee, but it wasn’t the knee,” Keenan said. “It was the ankle. Obviously, you don’t want to lose a guy like that, but he’s fine.”

Matthews looked no worse for wear after pulling off his pads.

“It’s sore, definitely sore,” he said of his injured ankle. “We’ve got to get some X-rays on it, so we’ll see.”

SHATTLER FITS IN

There’s a lot of lacrosse left in Jeff Shattler.

After 11 years in Calgary, the 2011 NLL MVP played his first game with Saskatchewan and finished with two goals and six assists for a game-high eight points. He’s 32 now, and still fast and still creative.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to suit up with these guys,” he said. “It’s a great family. It’s a great opportunity to go out there and play with a great team. I’m trying to give it everything I’ve got and pitch in where I can.”

About the 17-9 win, Shattler added: “We were moving the ball on offense, our defense shut the door, and Evan Kirk played amazing. It was an all-around team win. We did all the right things and capitalized on their mistakes.”

Keenan is delighted he was able to sign Shattler when he became an unrestricted free agent last summer.

“He does a lot of things well,” Keenan said. “He can score, but he’s also good in transition and defense. He’s very responsible. He’s a smart player. He had a nice game for us.”

Shattler is working in wonderfully alongside fellow lefty Matthews.

“He’s an incredible player,” Shattler said of Matthews. “It’s an honor to play with the guy. The whole offense, when the five-man set goes out and we swing the ball, it’s hard to stop a team when it’s swinging the ball like that. [Defenses] just don’t know where to settle. We keep doing that, and I don’t see a team standing in front of us.”

‘WE WEREN’T GOOD ENOUGH’

Toronto coach Matt Sawyer had some blunt comments after the Rock lost by eight goals in front of 8,624 spectators at their home opener and fell to 0-2.

“We weren’t good enough to play against a team like that and come out with a win,” Sawyer said “We need to get better as individuals. We need everybody to be performing at their best, and right now we’re not.

“It’s not a happy room. It’s not a happy time right now, but ultimately this is the group and we’ve got to pull ourselves out of it. We’ve got two choices: You can be honest with yourself and strive to be better or you can think everything is OK, which it isn’t right now.”

INSTANT FAN FAVORITE

There have only been two weekends of NLL games, yet the third-quarter goal Calgary transition player Zach Currier scored in the Roughnecks’ 15-12 win Friday night may just stand come May as the most incredible goal scored all season.

Currier’s one-handed stuff as he was airborne passing the goal line thrilled the home crowd of 9,708. In the last minute, the rookie from Peterborough, Ontario, via Princeton and Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws put on a show, dodging checkers while killing a penalty. He was the third player selected in the 2017 entry draft, but already ranks first in the most colorful player category.

“I don’t practice it, because I hurt myself doing it,” he replied when asked about the goal. “I just kind of went with it.”

‘NECKS INJURED

Greg Harnett went down in the first quarter and Bob Snider soon followed him to the Calgary dressing room. Neither returned.

STEALTH IN 0-2 HOLE

Vancouver has lost both its games — 15-8 at home against Colorado on Dec. 8 and 15-12 in Calgary on Friday — and Corey Small, who had a team-best 46 goals last season, has yet to score a goal. Rhys Duch, a 38-goal scorer last season, has just one.

“We are 0-2, we have 16 games left and we need to start winning, but we are not pushing the panic button,” coach Jamie Batley said. “We need to get better shooting percentages and we need more goals from some of our guys, and they know that.”

The Stealth don’t play this weekend, so maybe the week off will help.

FOURNIER’S FIRST

Ryan Fournier of the Stealth whipped in a bounce shot in the third quarter for his first NLL goal Friday.

Fournier, 23, played for the Kahnawake Mohawks Senior B team last summer. He won the Minto Cup in 2015 with the Junior A Six Nations Arrows. The 5-foot-9 native of Ottawa also played NCAA field lacrosse at Loyola, helping the Greyhounds to three Patriot League titles. He was team captain as a senior.

Vancouver made a trade with Buffalo to get Anthony Malcolm and the 12th pick in the 2017 entry draft, which they used to select Fournier. The Bandits got Jordan Durston.

50-50 BONANZA

The 50-50 draws conducted at Saskatchewan games have raised more than $1.2 million (Canadian) for Saskatchewan Minor Lacrosse over the last two seasons. For the Dec. 23 home opener, the jackpot will start at $50,000 from the moment the SaskTel Centre doors open.

TIME TRAVEL

Dec. 26, 2003: The Arizona Sting, with Dan Dawson in the lineup, defeated the Vancouver Ravens 16-12 in their first game in the Glendale Arena.

 

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