Saskatchewan, Rochester Battle for League's New Trophy Saturday

PHOTO COURTESY OF NLL

The NLL final is down to one game and the Rush look to lock up its third title in four years at home.


Now it’s down to one game to decide the NLL championship – the way it used to be – and we’ll see on Saturday in Saskatoon if home-floor advantage will help the Saskatchewan Rush win the franchise’s third title in four years, or if the cornered Rochester Knighthawks will emerge victorious.

Rochester evened the best-of-three final with a 13-8 home win in front of a cowbell clanging crowd of 9,174. Saskatchewan had a 55-53 edge in shots on goal. Matt Vinc made 47 saves to 40 by Evan Kirk of the Rush. The Knighthawks led 90-81 in loose ball possessions. They got three goals from defensemen or transition runners and the Rush got none.

Saskatchewan had won the opener 16-9 at home as most of the 11,842 spectators roared their approval the previous weekend. Shots were 64-44 in favor of the Rush. Vinc made 48 saves and Kirk made 35. The Rush had an 80-55 advantage in loose ball possessions. Their back end outscored Rochester’s back end 5-1.

CONCLUSIONS:

Home floor is a tangible advantage in this series. Just look at the loose balls and transition goals numbers.

“We worked all year to have home advantage and we’re happy we have it,” Rush coach Derek Keenan said as he looked forward to returning to the friendly confines of SaskTel Centre. “I think we’ll be much better [in Game 3]. We’ve got a lot of players who have played in big games and I’m sure they’ll bring it.”

Vinc is playing every bit as good as he did when he was such a key component of his team’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 championships.

“Vinc was lights out,” Rush captain Chris Corbeil said after Game 2.

Vinc will change nothing for Game 3.

“I’m a creature of habit,” he said. “I won’t do anything differently. I’ve got to go out there and try to make the first save and stay level-headed and calm in there. If we do that, we’ll have the opportunity to play a good game and come out on top.”

The Knighthawks learned to enjoy the underdog role as they fought back from the 2-6 start to their season. Ever since, they’ve been a pack of cornered rats scrapping for a fight.

“During the [morning] shootaround, Cody Jamieson was saying, ‘We’re better with our backs against the wall,’” Vinc said during postgame interviews in Rochester.

No obstacle can’t be overcome. It may as well be coach Mike Hasen’s motto.

“We knew what we had to do here [Saturday],” he said rather matter-of-factly. “We’ve been here, done that.”







MORE EMOTION

Josh Currier was the Game 2 offensive kingpin. He scored four goals. He got one in Game 1.

“I played with a bit more emotion than I did during the season,” he said. “This is the way our team has been all year. Somebody different steps up every game.”

Defense, not offense, is the team’s greatest strength, though.

“We feel we have the best defense and the best goalie in the league,” said Currier.

FAST BREAKS

Watch for fast-break goals in Game 3. The team getting them early and often will probably be the team that hoists the new championship trophy. The Rush falloff in this aspect from Game 1 to Game 2 was glaring.

"It wasn’t a good night for us in that respect,” Corbeil admitted.

HOSSACK IS A BEAST

Graeme Hossack is one of the league’s premier defenseman, if not the very best, and to see him scoring goals like he did in Game 2 further enhances his reputation. The third-year pro out of Missouri’s Division II Lindenwood University tied it 2-2 and he put Rochester up 10-5 with a breakaway bounce shot a lot of forwards will envy when they review the video.

MATTHEWS BLANKED

Rush star Mark Matthews had eight shots on Vinc and three off the mark and could not buy a Game 2 goal.

POWER OUTAGE

Saskatchewan had the best power play in the NLL during the regular season but is a meager 2-for-9 (1-7 in Game 1 and 1-2 in Game 2) in the championship series.

‘CAN’T WAIT’

After losing their title on their home floor to Georgia in overtime a year ago, Saskatchewan players will be driven to avoid a bleak déjà vu experience this weekend.

“This year we came in with a chip on our shoulder,” said Corbeil.

Saturday is a last chance to swat that chip off.

“We’ll feel more confident playing at home,” said Corbeil. “Let’s put this [Game 2 loss] behind us. Now we’re getting a chance to win it at home. I can’t wait.”

“We’ll put our best foot forward and try to finish it off at home,” added transition runner Adrian Sorichetti.

THREE IN A ROW

This will be the third consecutive year the title will be decided in Saskatoon. The Georgia Swarm won it in SaskTel Centre in 2017 after Saskatchewan defeated Buffalo in its home arena in 2016.

LONG SEASON

The season will end one day short of the June 10 finale last season, when Miles Thompson scored 1:17 into overtime to give the Georgia Swarm a 15-14 win over the Rush, but this season is longer than last season because it began three weeks earlier on Dec. 8.

SEALS TO GET TOP ROOKIE

Pat Merrill, the GM-coach of the San Diego expansion team, won a halftime coin toss and opted to get first pick in the September entry draft. Philadelphia, a second expansion team to begin play next autumn, gets first pick in a July 16 expansion draft as a consolation prize. Each of the nine teams that formed the league this season can protect 10 runners and a goalie. Their lists must be submitted by July 2. No team can lose more than players.

Top prospects include left forward Chris Cloutier of the University of North Carolina, left forward Connor Robinson of High Point, right transition checker Matt Gilroy of Bucknell, right transition checker Shane Simpson of UNC and left transition player Ian MacKay of Vermont.

Austin Staats, a dynamic attacker, would enter the mix if he declares his eligibility for the entry draft after helping Onondaga Community College to a second straight U.S. national junior college title.

“The first pick in the entry draft will open a lot of doors for the Seals in our inaugural season in San Diego,” said Merrill, who was the first overall pick in 2002.

The Seals will play their homes games in the Valley View Casino Center.

CHANGE OF SCENERY

After the first week of play in Ontario’s indoor Major Series Lacrosse, Corey Small of the Peterborough Lakers led all goal scorers with six in two games. Small, who plays in the NLL for the Vancouver Stealth, returned east after many years with the Victoria Shamrocks of the Western Lacrosse Association.

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