As a 10-year veteran in the National Lacrosse League, Ryan Ward knows full-well that each and every game in the season is important.
But every so often even an experienced, well-established player gets an extra spring in his step for certain dates on the calendar. For Ward, the circled dates are this weekend’s doubleheader for the Edmonton Rush against the Minnesota Swarm.
“There’s always added incentive playing against your old team. You want to play well,” said Ward, who came to the Rush in a 2010 trade with the Swarm and has since gone on to become Edmonton’s all-time leading scorer.
Ward, a former standout at Butler University who coaches in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, expects to have around 250 friendly faces in the stands – along with a handful of familiar faces on the opposing bench – when the Rush visit the Swarm on Sunday afternoon. But up first is Friday night’s tilt on Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place, and the first meeting between the Rush and Swarm since last spring’s West Division Final. After suffering a 15-3 pasting on their home floor, the Swarm will likely be a little feisty as acquaintances are renewed, something Ward and the Rush are prepared to deal with.
“In their locker room, it’s probably being talked about that they want some payback for last year and they’re going to come out ready to fire and compete,” noted Ward.
“I think both teams are hungry and it’s becoming a good rivalry. Other than that one playoff games, the games against them have been really close.”
After shocking the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Semifinal, the Rush played a second consecutive road playoff date in Minnesota and cruised to a victory that pushed them into their first Champion’s Cup final appearance. Ward, a two-time league all-star, finished the playoffs as the NLL’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 11 assists in just three games.
The Rush are coming off last weekend’s splendid performances that garnered them a 15-10 victory over Washington for their first home-turf win of the season, which was then followed by a 14-7 decision over Colorado on the Mammoth’s home floor.
The key next step is building off those impressive victories.
“Last week was huge for us. It gave us confidence and the ability to breathe without feeling any pressure,” said Ward. “Would I say we’re in playoff form yet? No we’re not there, but we did make some major gains.
“Against Minnesota, they rely on their transition so it’ll be key for us to play 5-on-5. And we’re going to focus on doing the things we did last weekend that got us two wins.”
Friday’s test against the Swarm will mark the last home game for the Rush for quite some time. The team moves into the heart of the regular season embarking on a five-game road trip that begins with Sunday’s rematch in Minnesota.
“I actually like playing on the road,” added Ward. “I like silencing the home crowd, the team meals, everybody together at the hotel. You just have to have the right mindset and not think like ‘Oh, we’re on the road again.’
“You have to think like ‘We welcome the challenge and we’re going to do very well.’ ”