Though no fault of his own, a lot has been said and written about Mark Matthews. That comes with the territory when you’re the consensus No. 1 overall draft pick for the National Lacrosse League. But that talk isn’t just limited to what fans and media are saying. He heard plenty of it when he arrived for Day 1 of training camp with the Edmonton Rush, the team that made him the top pick in September’s draft. “Everyone was kind of joking around, calling me names and stuff,” he said of that first session. “But I was pretty happy to be there and one of the guys.” If all the talk of Matthews comes to fruition, there’s a very good chance he will be THE guy.
The history of the Edmonton Rush is a proud one, but not necessarily a winning one. Yes, the Rush were in last May’s Champion’s Cup game, where they lost to the Rochester Knighthawks. But detractors may point to the 6-10 record in the regular season, which was the team’s 6th losing record in 7 seasons.
None of that matters to Matthews, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound left-handed forward out of Oshawa, Ont. He’s planning to do all he can to make winners of the Rush, no matter how that may end up defining his role.
“I expect to play all the games I can and doing what I can to help this team win,” he said. “Whether it’s scoring goals or helping other guys score.”
There’s no doubt he can score goals. Matthews is well-versed in how to use his big frame to generate offense, whether it’s a goal for himself or space for a teammate. Rush coach and general manager Derek Keenan knew exactly what he was getting in Matthews as the pair were part of the Whitby Warriors team that won the 2011 Minto Cup. And on the flip side of that, Matthews knows exactly what to expect from Keenan.
“He sits back and lets the guys play,” said Matthews. “But he lets us know when we’re not playing like he knows we can.”
Matthews comes into the NLL as decorated as any rookie in recent seasons. In addition to his feats in Ontario and in B.C., leading the Coquitlam Adanacs to a Minto Cup in 2010, he’s an accomplished field player. He starred at the University of Denver, where he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer. And this past summer, he took a break from box lacrosse to play Major League Lacrosse for the Denver Outlaws.
Despite the past honors, Matthews is humbled by the attention he’s getting now and says that all the talk and predictions of greatness did nothing to quell the butterflies in his stomach on draft day.
“It was pretty public,” he said of the hype before the draft. “But when they did call my name, it was still pretty special.”
And the first day of training camp?
“I was obviously nervous,” he said. “I hadn’t played box in a while but the guys made me feel good and Jimmy Quinlan made me feel right at home and it was easy to fit in. I was a bit rusty, but 2days of 3 practices got me back into playing shape. The guys really helped me out.”
And with the skill Matthews is bringing to Edmonton, the Rush are hoping he helps them out with another run toward an NLL championship.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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