Sports This Week - Rush opener reaffirms growing popularity

If you are a sports fan in Saskatchewan the place to have been Saturday evening was the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon for the home opener of the Saskatchewan Rush.

Frankly, any time you can take in a Rush game you are in for a treat, but this game had a little more interest as the team hoisted their 2017-18 Championship banner as National Lacrosse League champions. It is the second time in the three years the team had called Saskatoon home to have won the league championship, and as my buddy lamented at least twice on Saturday’s excursion only a questionable coaching decision in the championships in 2017 prevented it from being three-in-a-row.

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The Rush are becoming something of a modern dynasty in a league which while being around for decades is just now seeming on the verge of becoming a much more significant league in terms of team sports in North America.

And, things look good for the Rush moving forward with key players such as Robert Church, Ben McIntosh and Mark Matthews under contract for the next few seasons. With the core nucleus of the team inked to deals, most for three years, the Rush should remain in the mix every season.

As for Saturday’s game it was another well-done sports entertainment package. The team had select season ticket holders on the floor to hand out championship rings to the players. That might not seem like such a big deal, but those fans are going to long remember the moment.

That has been a big part of the Rush’s success. They have done an outstanding job of creating a sense of Rush community with the fans, which is why just shy of 14,000 attended the game.

It doesn’t hurt when the team adds some nice bonuses to attending a game either, such as having the popular country group the Hunter Brothers performing on the floor at half time, again with a group of fans allowed down on the floor to experience the moment up close. For those of us in the stands the vocal quality on the sound system for the music was the lone aspect of the game experience which was subpar, but it hardly seemed to matter given the general positive mood of the place.

Then there was the game itself. The opponents were the San Diego Seals one of two expansion teams in the NLL this season, the first in an ambitious expansion plan by league commissioner Nick Sakiewicz to hit 16 teams as soon as possible. Halifax and New York are already announced to join this fall for next season.

Sakiewicz sees 16 teams as a sort of foundational base from which further growth can be all but unlimited, hinting at as many as 30 teams one day.

Facing the fledgling Seals the Rush earned their first win of the season 16-12, having lost their season opener on the road to New England.

The duo of the aforementioned Ben McIntosh, and Jeff Shattler lead the way for the Rush combining for nine goals and five assists.

While the Rush offence rolled, it was also interesting to get a first live look at Austin Staats, the first overall pick in 2018 draft for the Seals. He continued his great start to the season with four goals bring his total to nine, sixth best in the league. It’s rather obvious why Staats went first overall as he has the look of superstar about him on nearly every offensive shift.

Saskatchewan is back on the floor this Saturday as they head west to visit the Vancouver Warriors, who are now owned by the same group as the NHL Canucks and playing at Rogers Arena.

The Rush are home again on the 19th to face Rochester, with a little added fun as the team has inked former Roughrider quarterback Darian Durant as an honourary member for the game, another indication of the overall fun atmosphere at a game.

If you haven’t yet made the trip to a Rush game, and yes the trip itself is a tad tedious, but you will find it worth it.

The NLL in general and Rush in particular are a blast to watch.

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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