SASKATOON — It was mission accomplished for the Saskatchewan Rush.
The Rush downed the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 in a series-deciding Game 3 of the NLL championship series on Saturday before 13,645 spectators at the SaskTel Centre.
A year ago, the Rush were swept 2-0 in the best-of-three National Lacrosse League championship series by the Georgia Swarm. It was a tough pill to swallow after winning the NLL championship the previous two seasons, and the team made it a goal to return to the league’s mountaintop this season.
Saskatchewan captured the newly minted National Lacrosse League Cup, which replaced the Champion’s Cup as the NLL’s title trophy.
“It feels great, because it was disappointment last year for all our guys,” said Rush head coach Derek Keenan. “We talked about it from the very first day of training camp.
“I remember being in Toronto our first game of the regular season and saying to our guys, ‘You know what. I think last year was a blip on the radar for this team, this organization. We are going to get it done this year.’ They’ve been focused on that all year.”
The first quarter was a defensive struggle. The visiting Knighthawks broke through on the scoreboard with 44.9 seconds to play in the frame on a diving shot by forward Josh Currier. He would score four times on the night.
The Rush opened the second quarter exploding for four goals to go up 4-1, and the contest went back and forth from that point.
The hosts held a 6-4 edge at halftime, but the Knighthawks surged ahead 8-7 at the 9:42 mark of the third quarter.
The Rush pushed back and went ahead 11-8 only for the Knighthawks to cut the lead to 11-10 with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Saskatchewan sealed victory with a final surge of four goals.
The Knighthawks were searching for their first NLL title since 2014. They started the 2018 campaign at 2-6 before rallying to finish the regular season with a 10-8 record and advancing to the NLL title series in the playoffs.
The Rush topped the NLL regular season standings at 14-4 and went 3-1 in the post-season.
“It is an awful feeling right now, but where these guys were, you can’t say enough about their compete level and what they do for each other,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It is nice to be a part of.
“It sucks big time that we weren’t able to finish the way that we wanted to. I think this one is special, because we weren’t supposed to be here. These guys were supposed to win.
“I think we pushed them to the limit as much as we could.”
Jeff Shattler scored four goals for the Rush, captain Chris Corbeil had a hat trick, while Ben McIntosh, Ryan Keenan, Curtis Knight and Matthew Dinsdale each scored twice.
Cody Jamieson had a hat trick for the Knighthawks while Joe Resetarits, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell each scored singles.
Shattler was named the MVP of the NLL playoffs.
“I love playoffs,” said Shattler. “I’ve always been a playoff player.
“I love the intensity of it. I love that it is a do or die situation. That is why I play lacrosse. I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.”
Evan Kirk made 37 stops in goal for the Rush. Matt Vinc turned away 37 shots in goal for the Knighthawks.
Saturday’s game marked the third time in team history and third time in the last four years the Rush franchise has won the NLL crown. The Rush claimed their first league title back in 2015 in the franchise’s final season in Edmonton.
They won their second title in 2016 in their first season in Saskatchewan.
The Rush left Edmonton following the 2015 campaign after the club was unable to secure a long-term lease deal.
“It is unbelievable,” said Corbeil “It just kills me, because we should have four of four.
“I’m obviously being greedy. Georgia was a great team last year.”
Corbeil enjoyed Saturday’s win and was surprised by the weight of the league’s new championship trophy.
“It was heavy,” said Corbeil. “I couldn’t believe it.
“I haven’t done enough shoulder presses lately, so I will be passing it off.”