It was no surprise when the Edmonton Rush reached for offence in the first round of the 2013 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft. Once again in 2013 the Rush had had among the best defensive clubs in the league; they allowed just 170 goals, second-fewest in the league. And while the offence has made strides over the last couple of years, there’s no question they could use the infusion of talent that they hope they have gotten by taking Robert Church fifth overall from the Coquitlam Adanacs and Drexel University. Church will be aiming to play his first full regular season of box lacrosse since his rookie year in the BCJALL and the Rush will be hoping he can bring the kind of playoff scoring to them that he enjoyed with the Adanacs.
Church played only 20 games over his final three seasons of Junior A in Coquitlam and just nine games last summer with the Western Lacrosse Association’s Burnaby Lakers because he always arrived back from Drexel midway through the season. He also finds he has had more trouble than some adjusting back to the indoor game. “I always found myself having a tough time adjusting from college to box lacrosse. I think it took me more time than most people, it usually took me about five games and by then it was pretty much playoff time.”
That may explain why Church generally had such strong performances in the postseason, particularly in 2012 when he scored 27 goals and 42 assists for 69 points in 14 playoff games as he helped the Adanacs reach the Minto Cup finals. In the semi-finals that year, his team managed to knock out Edmonton Head Coach and GM Derek Keenan’s Whitby Warriors. It was a nice change from the teams’ previous meeting at the Minto in Alberta, where Whitby got the better of the Adanacs.
Having faced Keenan’s clubs at the highest level of the junior game, Church has a ton of respect for the Rush head man. “I’m looking forward to playing for a coach the calibre of Keenan. That’s going to be awesome,” he said. That’s part of why he was so stoked to hear the Rush draft him. “I was very excited. I’d been looking forward to the draft since the end of school, pretty much ever since I started playing lacrosse, so hearing my name was awesome. Then it being the Rush was even better.”
Church is looking forward to another chance to play with Rush star forward Mark Matthews, too. “I’ve played with Matthews before. He’s an awesome player. The offence is built around him and he’s a good enough player to do anything anyone else can do. Then that defence, it’s probably the best in the league so you always know you’ll be in a game with them as your backbone.”
And he’s not worried about taking time to transition back to the box game, since he hasn’t played any field lacrosse since the summer season with Burnaby. Church has also been getting ready for the season along with another Rush draftee. “I’ve been hitting the gym pretty hard and going to the box regularly with Riley Loewen, who got drafted to them as well, so we’ve been doing a lot of stuff together to help get ready for camp and the season.”
Church says he sees himself as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but believes he can put the ball in the net. While he says he expects the adjustment to the speed of the NLL game to be a challenge, he’s looking forward to being a team-first player who’s willing to do whatever he needs to to make the players around him and the Rush offence as a whole better.
Mostly, though, Church is just excited to get a chance to play in the NLL on the biggest stage in the game. “Just playing the highest level of lacrosse possible,” he says. “I think it’s going to be very exciting to play in all those big stadiums that you see on TV. I think that’ll be really exciting for me.” The Rush are counting on Church making it exciting for their fans, as well.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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