EDMONTON - Let’s pretend for a moment that Mark Matthews is one of the most impressive rookies ever to come out of the NLL Draft.
Never mind that he has been awarded all three of the league’s rookie of the month honours so far in 2013, and that his 67 points have him in the lead for the rookie scoring title this year.
Forget that his 37 goals have already tied an Edmonton Rush record for top tallies in a single season, set by Chris Gill in 2007. And Matthews still has one more game left to go.
Just forget it all, because that one game holds more meaning to the club than any other regular-season matchup in its history.
And it will happen Saturday when they host the rival Calgary Roughnecks (7 p.m., Sportsnet ONE), who will try to ruin Edmonton’s chances at not only finishing in first place overall, but also at earning an ever-elusive home playoff game.
“Definitely, it’s big for us to finish the season off with a win against a great team and finish the season at No. 1,” said Matthews, the first-overall draft pick in the off-season. “Instead of falling to maybe even third, I think, if we lose.”
And that’s third place in the West Division, not overall, which would likely make it eight-straight seasons without earning a home playoff game since joining the NLL in 2006.
Needless to say, it’s the biggest regular-season game they’ve ever played.
“So it would be big for us and for the fans here in Edmonton to win that game,” said Matthews, who has helped the Rush score a franchise-high 193 goals on the season.
His 37 were the biggest piece of that pie,
“I read that a couple day ago and somebody tweeted it,” Matthews said of his franchise-tying tally to go along with four assists in a 14-10 win over the visiting Rochester Knighthawks last Sunday. “It’s kind of cool to read that, but we’re a little more worried about getting that first place and making some noise at home and getting ourselves to that national-championship game again.”
Mark down the monthly honours and the rookie-scoring race in the same column.
“Yeah, it’s cool to win those awards and stuff, but it really doesn’t take over the fact that we’re one game away from being in first place in the whole league and hosting games throughout the whole playoffs,” said Matthews. “When all that is said and we can get first place and that national championship, that makes the individual awards a little bit better.”
He should know. Despite being in his rookie season of pro lacrosse, Matthews already has a pair of Minto Cup championships as a junior with the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2010 before joining the Whitby Warriors in 2011 — coached by current head coach and GM of the Rush, Derek Keenan — and making it back-to-back titles.
While Matthews may put his own impressive achievements behind those of the team, his coach has no problems shining a light on the rising star.
One that beams well beyond Matthews’s goal-scoring abilities, too.
“Obviously, he’s had a good season for us: he’s come in and, as a rookie, really made an impact on our team and our offence,” said Keenan. “An opportunity to break a record on our team is great, but he’s been contributing in a lot of other ways lately. He had a bunch of assists last weekend and has good people around him and he’s benefitted from that, as well.
“But you can’t deny the fact that he’s had a great season as a rookie.”
Weight: 230 pounds
Born: Jan. 27, 1990
Hometown: Oshawa, Ont.
Years NLL/Rush: 1/1
Occupation: U of A student
College: University of Denver
Selected first overall by Rush head coach and GM Derek Keenan in the off-season draft, Matthews is already familiar with his coaching style during his time in junior with the Whitby Warriors. Matthews earned back-to-back Minto Cup championships and his combination of size, speed and athleticism made the University of Denver product the player to watch in his rookie NLL season.