Gregor: Edmonton Rush intend to bring road success home
Edmonton’s goal to finally have National Lacrosse League playoff games at Rexall Place
The Edmonton Rush have played 125 regular-season games since entering the National Lacrosse League in 2006, but the next three games could have the biggest impact on the future of the franchise.
The Rush have become one of the league’s most exciting teams, recently sweeping a five-game road trip by a combined score of 74-50.
While the Rush, 8-5, have played great lacrosse on the road, they are only 1-4 at Rexall Place, where they finish the season with three consecutive games against the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday, the Rochester Knighthawks on April 14, and the Calgary Roughnecks on April 20.
“I think the biggest difference is once we get to the rink on the road, there are no distractions from about 5 to 7:30 p.m. The doors are shut and it is just us,” said team captain and Edmonton resident Jimmy Quinlan, the only remaining member of the 2006 expansion team.
“When we are in Edmonton, there are other things going on that are attached to the game. As players, we just have to do a better job of blocking that stuff out and making sure we come out and compete for 60 minutes. If you look at our five games at home, we haven’t had bad starts. We’ve led after every first quarter and it’s not like we are coming out flat and having a bad showing.
“I believe we matured a lot on this past road trip. We are a young team that is learning how to work and, when you start having the results and success we’ve had, it becomes easier to play that way every night. Right now we just have to remember how hard we’ve had to work to be successful,” Quinlan said.
In their inaugural season, the Rush averaged over 11,000 fans per game, but went 0-8 at home. Over the next six years, the attendance slowly dropped to 7,000 fans as the Rush struggled on the floor.
A home playoff date this year would go a long way to reinvigorating a fanbase starving for a winner. The Rush went to the league championship last year, but all three games were on the road. In fact, Edmonton has never played a playoff game at home.
“I think it is huge. A home playoff game will get those people who are on the fence about going to see lacrosse, come check it out,” Quinlan said. “It can only help lacrosse going forward, and while we don’t want that to be the focus in our dressing room, I’d be lying if I didn’t think about how huge it would be for the Edmonton Rush to have a home playoff game.”
Quinlan said the players are well aware of the standings.
“We hold the tiebreaker on Toronto and Washington and we hold the tiebreaker on Calgary, if we beat them in the last game of the season. We know that if we take care of the next two games, it could very well come down to the last game of the season for home advantage throughout the playoffs,” he said.
The Rush are the NLL’s second-highest scoring team while surrendering the fewest goals. Ryan Ward sits seventh in scoring with 64 points while Mark Matthews is 10th (plus second in goals with 35) and Corey Small 13th.
The team is built to be dominant for a long time. Ward, 33, and Quinlan, 32, are the only players over 29 years of age. All-star goalie Aaron Bold is 27, all-star defender Brett Mydske is 24, reigning defensive player of the year Kyle Rubisch is 24,and Matthews, a lock for NLL rookie of the year, is 23. Chris Corbeil, Zack Greer, Jeremy Thompson and Small are all 25 to 27, while Curtis Knight, Jeff Cornwall, Ryan Dilks and John Lafontaine are 22 to 23.
Even if the Rush finish first in the league and go to their second straight championship, they will get another top-four draft pick courtesy of the Brodie Merrill trade to the Philadelphia Wings last year. They will be able to add another key piece at this year’s draft and could be on the verge of becoming a truly dominant franchise.
“This team reminds me of my rookie year in 2005 with Toronto when we won the Champions Cup. We are solid from top to bottom. We are fortunate to have Aaron Bold in net. He’s a huge student of the game and studies every aspect. Our back end is led with three of the top defenders in the league with Rubisch, Corbeil and Mydske.
“As soon as we brought (Matthews) aboard, it allowed a lot to happen offensively. He’s freed up space for Greer, Ward and (Small) to do their thing and we have some great complimentary scoring and guys who are willing to do the little things that make you win,” continued Quinlan.
The next step is to let the Edmonton fans experience some of that success at Rexall Place.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com.
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