Just a shade past the halfway point of the National Lacrosse League season, and the Edmonton Rush, who enjoyed a rare bye week in the schedule have sights towards the first place in the West Division.
The Rush, who are finally reaping the benefits of having some first-rate offensive talent in the lineup, sit second in the entire league with 129 goals, and of the three teams that have played 10 games so far this season, the Rush have the lowest goals against having surrendered only 111 goals.
On the flipside of the good, the Rush, stand with a 5-5 overall record, are batting just over .500 against their divisional rivals at 5-4, and have just one win in five starts on Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place.
So with six games to go in the regular season – three on the road and three at home – there’s still work to be done for the defending West Division champs and Champion’s Cup finalists. With that in mind, Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan took a few minutes out of his hectic mid-year schedule to go over where his team is at beginning with a handful of assessments on standout individuals:
Mark Matthews – “He has been very good and living up to expectations. I still think he has lots of room to get better though. As long as he continues to work at it and buy-in he will continue to impact our team and the NLL.”
Ryan Ward – “He has been our clear leader on offense, on and off the floor. He’s spending a lot of time communicating with our young group and he’s backing it up on the floor.”
Aaron Bold – “For the most part, he’s been there when we need him. He’s made big saves at key points in games when the game could have gone either way. I think he’s headed for a really strong finish.”
Kyle Rubisch – “Only 24 years old and the best defender in the game. What more can be said? He leads by example. He creates a lot of difficulty for the top offensive players in the league.”
Zack Greer – “It’s kind of been two different seasons for Zack. The first five games when he really struggled and the last five when he’s been good and getting better every game. I think not playing in the summer at all affected his start, but he seems to have removed the rust and has turned it around. I know he is working extremely hard at getting better.”
Next up, Keenan went through a few observations about the Rush, how the team started out, what he’s seen of late, and where things are headed as the stretch drive and playoffs approach.
Q: Heading into season, one of the strengths of team was athleticism and speed. Has that played out the way you wanted, and in particular, has it played out when it comes to Forced Turnovers and overall defense.
A: Yes it has. When we execute our system and play with that ‘Go through the wall’ attitude we are hard to play against. When we play that way we also generate a lot of transition and I think it lifts up our offense.
Q: What did it take from the GM/Head Coach to straighten the team out after sluggish start, and now having won three of the last four games including the big win over Calgary? Did the team’s leadership group also take a bigger role?
A: Patience. We are young with six new offensive players and I knew it would take time. I think we have a really good group of guys and a strong leadership group. I don’t think they took a bigger role. Just patience that’s all.
Q: The offense has been somewhat hit and miss from game to game (ex: losing 13-8 to Minnesota at home vs. winning 18-13 against Calgary on the road). You’ve mentioned hustle as the biggest consistency factor. Is that the one thing that’s most needed?
A: I think our offense feeds off of our ‘D’ and transition. In that Minnesota home game, I thought we were brutal on ‘D’ for most of the game and not much better on ‘O.’ Two days later was a different story. It’s a matter of grinding away at our system and offensive sets.
Q: Who do see as potentially the breakout star for Rush in second half of the season? And also has any player been a pleasant surprise to date this season?
A: Jeremy Thompson would be my pleasant surprise guy. I knew he was a good player but he’s been exceptional. I think Corey Conway will make a big contribution down the stretch.
Q: How do you see the West Division and the playoffs shaking out?
A: It’s one game at a time. Last year we proved that having a home playoff date meant nothing. It would be nice to have but we just want to keep winning.”