NLL 2013 preview: Edmonton Rush

Ryan Ward is back as a top offensive threat for the Rush this season, and he's got some help. (Photo: Dan Brodie)
Ryan Ward is back as a top offensive threat for the Rush this season, and he's got some help. (Photo: Dan Brodie)

You know what they say about those who finish in second place, right? Yeah, the first loser. Harsh as it may be, the fact of the matter is, when you get as close as the Edmonton Rush did to winning a National Lacrosse League championship, you’re gonna have a sour taste in your mouth. You’re gonna be irked, because you were right there. And it slipped away. Especially if you’re the Edmonton Rush. A franchise that has long been a non-threat in the NLL had a chance last May to shove it back in the faces of the doubters. But there’s a newfound respect for the Rush and what they’re doing. And this season, the Rush aren’t going to take anyone by surprise as they begin their quest to not only return to the Champion’s Cup game, but win it all.

Edmonton Rush

2012: 6-10, lost in Champion’s Cup final
Top 3 returning scorers: Ryan Ward (19 goals, 38 assists for 57 points), Corey Small (19-29, 48), Zack Greer (31-12, 43).
League leaders: Kyle Rubisch (43 forced turnovers).
Key additions: Mark Matthews (draft pick), Curtis Knight (draft pick), Jeremy Thompson (trade), Jarrett Davis (trade), Cory Conway (trade), Alex Turner (free agent).
Key departures: Tyler Codron (work duties), Aaron Wilson (traded to Buffalo), Shawn Williams (traded to Buffalo), Scott Evans (released), Steve Toll (retired).

Outlook: Want an idea of how much the Edmonton offense struggled last year? Goalie Aaron Bold, with 14 assists, is the team’s fifth-highest returning scorer from the 2012 season. He ranked eighth overall and with the departure of Shawn Williams and Aaron Wilson by trade and Scott Evans, who was released, the front door took quite a hit as 3 of the top 6 scorers for Edmonton last year are no longer with the team.

The offensive struggles of Edmonton are well-documented over the seasons, but this 2013 should be different. Much different. No. 1 overall draft pick Mark Matthews should have an immediate impact from the left side. His skill up top is noteworthy, as is his familiarity with the system coach Derek Keenan likes to run because of their days together in Junior A Whitby. Matthews will have plenty of help on his side with Zack Greer and Tom Johnson along with newcomer Alex Turner. Greer led the Rush with 31 goals last winter and Turner has been a solid WLA producer with Langley the last 4 seasons. Turner hasn’t played meaningful NLL ball since logging 16 games with Philadelphia in 2011, where he had 17 goals and 22 assists.

On the right, rookie Curtis Knight brings a nice touch and veterans Corey Small and Ryan Ward will have some additional help from the newly acquired Jarrett Davis. It won’t be difficult to improve on the 167 goals scored last season, which ranked last in the NLL. Then again, with the horses the Rush have lined up in their stable, it’ll make it that much easier to get better.

The athletic back end is in good shape with the likes of Kyle Rubisch, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year for the NLL and for ILIndoor.com. Rubisch led the NLL with 43 forced turnovers and was among 4 Rush players ranked in the top 10 league-wide in that category. Brett Mydske is one of the more underrated defenders in the league and he’s joined by John Lintz, Jeff Cornwall, Chris Corbeil, Ryan Dilks and John LaFontaine. Together, the unit has length and speed and doesn’t seem to miss a step no matter who’s on the floor. They can get the ball up the floor in a hurry and if they don’t, they’ve got some speedy teammates in transition who can handle the ball and make the right decisions.

Veteran Jimmy Quinlan brings leadership by voice and action as the team captain, and newcomer Jeremy Thompson adds another option. Rookie Mitchell Bannister did some impressive work in camp and even if he doesn’t get to play often early in the season, he’s got some great examples to learn from.

We found out that Bold can contribute offensively (team-record for a goalie with 14 assists) by finding runners on the break after making a save. But we also know how solid he is in the cage. He led the league in minutes (951) and finished third in goals-against (10.47) and save percentage (.775) and saves (571). He was even better in the playoffs, registering a goals-against average of 7.69 and save percentage of .819.

It added up to a spot on the second-team All-Pro squad and should he falter, the Rush have a very capable backup in Brodie MacDonald, the anchor of the Langley Thunder team that has played in the last 2 Mann Cup tournaments.

To be as close as the Rush were to winning it all last season, there’s no question there’s a fire in the belly. Especially for a franchise that’s largely been an afterthought when it comes to the playoffs. The Rush weren’t exactly striking fear in opponents during the regular season, but they caught fire when it mattered most and Keenan and his staff is hoping the off-season moves will help maintain that momentum heading into the 2013 season.

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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 bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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