Edmonton, AB -- Lacrosse doesn't stop for many members of the Edmonton Rush even when the turf is rolled up on Crystal Glass Field at Rexall Place.
For Rush GM/Head Coach Derek Keenan, the summer season not only means scouting for the upcoming draft, contract negotiations, and talking trade with rival NLL teams, it's also when his focus shifts to the junior ranks for his Whitby Warriors and their quest for the Minto Cup. And for the second time in three years, the Warriors claimed the coveted national title, taking the Cup in a 3-1 series win over the New Westminster Salmonbellies. This championship was of particular importance for Keenan as it was won alongside his son Ryan who notched a goal and three assists in the deciding 10-8 victory.
"It's something he's been dreaming about since he was seven or eight years old," said Keenan.
"Your junior career has such a small window of opportunity. I played six years of junior and I didn't win one. My third year we came close and I thought I'd be back but it never happened. That was the message I gave this team when we turned the franchise around in 2010 - do not let this opportunity slide away."
The Minto Cup tournament is a demanding grind for all those involved but the Warriors battled through relatively unchallenged. They swept their three round-robin games outscoring their opposition 41-16. In the best-of-five final, Whitby beat New West 16-6 and 13-4 with only a 9-2 setback keeping them from a perfect record.
Alongside Keenan for the tournament was Rush rookie sensation Curtis Knight, who also won the Cup and tournament MVP honours in 2011. Knight had two goals in the clincher and was one of the tournament's top performers.
"As usual, he was unbelievable," offered Keenan. "He was the most well-rounded player on the floor ... his up-the-floor pressure, his loose-ball abilities. He scored some big goals and he was a quiet but phenomenal leader. He does his leading on the floor."
Prior to the summer season getting under way, Rush star Mark Matthews had his Major League Lacrosse playing rights traded from Denver to New York. It proved to be a relatively good move for the reigning NLL Rookie of the Year as he scored 11 goals and added six assists for 17 points in eight games for the Lizards in the top outdoor league in the United States. In between playing field ball in New York and box lacrosse for the Western Lacrosse Association's Langley Thunder, Matthews spent a portion of the summer in Denver working on conditioning with friend and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak.
"He's in really good shape. He's worked very hard on his fitness," said Keenan. "He's still maturing as an athlete but there's nothing but upside for him."
Matthews, the Rush's top goal-scorer last season, played in just five games for Langley but racked up five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in that short span. The Thunder had six Rush players in their line-up, including goalie Brodie MacDonald who had a terrific summer campaign. MacDonald led the WLA in goals-against average (7.51) and save-percentage (.821), and tied for first in regular-season wins (eight).
"He was really good," added Keenan. "He's giving us greater depth in goal, and I think he's very close to challenging for more playing time this coming season."
Joining MacDonald and Matthews with the Thunder were Alex Turner (38 points), John Lintz (nine assists), Brett Mydske (seven points), and Jarrett Toll (six points). Mydske was named the WLA's Defender of the Year after the Thunder captured the regular-season title.
Langley advanced to the WLA final against Victoria with a berth in the Mann Cup at stake. That showdown brought the Thunder's Rush contingent up against Victoria's, although the Shamrocks' Rush crew was down by half heading into the final. Corey Small had run roughshod in the WLA through the regular season, finishing third in league scoring with 86 points including 42 goals but he was felled by a serious knee injury five games into the playoffs.
"It's an ACL, but he's taking a pretty aggressive approach to returning," said Keenan, who is expecting Small to be out 4-6 months.
The good news for the Shamrocks and the Rush has been the play of Cory Conway, who finished one point up on Small for second in the WLA scoring race and was still the league's top set-up with 67 assists despite focusing on his goal-scoring abilities.
"He's been outstanding," reviewed Keenan. "He's been way more aggressive shooting the ball which is what we wanted him to work on. He's a great playmaker but a bit of a reluctant shooter so hopefully he can continue to work at that."
Conway had 28 playoff points for Victoria through Game 5 of the WLA final, while Matthews had 21 points and Mydske seven goals for Langley in post-season play.
Elsewhere in the B.C. circuit, Jarrett Davis finished fifth in league scoring with 73 points including 54 assists for Maple Ridge, while Rush teammate Mitch Banister had five points in 17 games for the Burrards. And in New Westminster, Jeff Cornwall and Jesse Fehr had full campaigns with the Salmonbellies.
Another group of Rush players spent the summer playing in Major Series Lacrosse - the top Senior 'A' circuit in Ontario which supplies the other half of the Mann Cup finalists. Mostly notable was a pair of 2012 draft picks who garnered valuable playing time that should help them come better prepared for the Rush training camp.
Michael Burke, who played in two games and picked up his first career NLL goal in his rookie year, played 15 games for the Brampton Excelsiors and finished second on the team in scoring with 56 points. Defensively, the Excelsiors were anchored by two Rush stalwarts - Chris Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch. Meanwhile, Michael Cudmore, who played in just a single Rush game in 2013, notched 11 points for the league-finalist Brooklin Redmen playing alongside fellow Edmonton teammate John Lafontaine.
"Burke had a really good summer. He continued to get physically stronger which is exactly what he had to do," noted Keenan. "Cudmore played really well early on and then suffered a concussion and that put him back a step but he's a very good athlete."
Also in MSL play, the Rush's Ryan Dilks picked up 10 goals in regular-season play and one more in the playoffs for the Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks.
Besides Matthews, the only other Rush player to suit up in MLL action over the summer was transition standout Jeremy Thompson, who logged 11 games for the Hamilton Nationals and picked up six goals and two assists.
RUSH RAMBLINGS: Coach Keenan will take another swing at enticing forward Dane Stevens to return to the club. The six-foot-four, 215-pounder hasn't suited up since the 2011 season due to family and work commitments. The lefty had 27 points in 14 regular-season games for Edmonton and finished the 2013 WLA season fourth in league scoring with 81 points, second in assists with 55, and third in power-play goals with 13 ... Rush captain Jimmy Quinlan coached against Keenan at the Minto Cup as Quinlan had assistant duties with the Alberta entry from Okotoks ... Former Rush assistant coach Jim Milligan has been named offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Wings ... Sherwood Park product Blaine Manning has retired but not left the Toronto Rock organization. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Manning will take over assistant coaching duties along ex-Rush fan favourite Pat Campbell.
2014 Season Tickets are now on sale and available by calling the Rush Office at 780 732-RUSH.