It was a quick crawl to the top of the heap, or an equally quick downhill tumble.The Saskatchewan Rush chose the former option Friday night at SaskTel Centre, not that it’s much cause for chest-thumping.Saskatchewan’s record, thanks to a 9-7 victory over the visiting Colorado Mammoth, is 5-4. That makes them the only plus-.500 team in the National Lacrosse League’s Western Division — their pursuers include Calgary (5-5), San Diego (4-4), Colorado (3-6) and Vancouver (3-7).“It’s so tight. Everybody’s in it,” Rush head coach Derek Keenan said at game’s end, after watching a standout performance from both his defence and goaltender Evan Kirk, who stopped 36 of 43 shots.
Saskatchewan Rush transition/defence Chris Corbeil moves the ball against the Colorado Mammoth during NLL action in Saskatoon, Sask. on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.
Liam Richards /
The turtles-pace race towards the NLL playoffs is at its halfway point for the defending-champion Rush, who have played nine games with nine left on the schedule.Saskatchewan snapped a three-game losing skid last weekend with a win over Vancouver, and have now captured two in a row heading into their game next Saturday against the visiting Calgary Roughnecks.“Let’s face it — us as coaches, ownership, fans, staff — we’ve been pretty spoiled with our success,” said Keenan, whose team has played in four straight NLL finals and won three of them. “Over the course of a good number of years, five or six years going back to Edmonton, we just didn’t lose a lot. This is a different year. The league has much more parity, with expansion, and some guys we’ve lost through other things. It’s a tighter league, and every week’s important. There’s been past years where we’ve got a playoff spot wrapped up by Game 10. I think it gives us a lot more incentive to play, that’s for sure.”
Saskatchewan Rush Head Coach and General Manager Derek Keenan calls for a time out as his team takes on the Colorado Mammoth during NLL action in Saskatoon, Sask. on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.
Liam Richards /
On Friday night, the Rush made their push for first before a crowd announced at 12,462. They led by a goal in the game’s final minute, and Kirk made a game-saving stop in Saskatchewan’s end with just over 30 seconds left. The ball landed on the stick of defender Brett Mydske, who fired home an empty-net marker — his first goal of the season — with 29 seconds on the clock.Kirk made another stop with 11 seconds left, and the Rush sent the crowd into a noisy ovation as the time ticked to zero.“Not many, but I’ll take ’em as they come,” Mydske said when asked how many empty-netters he’s scored. “With the empty net, you’re just hoping you don’t miss, because otherwise you owe the team some money in the locker room.”Kirk, Saskatchewan’s No. 1 goalie, sat in favour of backup Adam Shute during last weekend’s 15-13 Rush victory over Vancouver — an outcome that snapped a three-game losing streak. Kirk called it “a gut-check to realize you’ve got to do a little more than I’ve been doing,” and Keenan said his incumbent was “outstanding” on Friday.Jeff Shattler scored his 16th, 17th and 18th goals for Saskatchewan, which also got two goals and three assists from reigning league MVP Mark Matthews.Ryan Benesch collected a goal and four assists for the Mammoth.“We’re halfway through now,” Keenan said, “and I think we’re starting to figure things out.”email@example.com/kmitchspRelated