Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Matthews, Church and Bold deliver for Rush

Mark Matthews came up big for the Rush on Saturday.
    While the entertainment around a Saskatchewan Rush game can be a spectacle, the players that take the floor deliver more than their fair share of thrills as well.
    The Rush are gunning for a third straight National Lacrosse League title, and they have relied on a core group throughout their current run. On Saturday at the SaskTel Centre, three key members of that core group delivered in a big way to power the Rush to their third straight NLL Championship series appearance.
    Mark Matthews, Robert Church and Aaron Bold all had big games to help the Rush slip past the Denver based Colorado Mammoth 11-10 in Game 2 of a Western Division championship series. With the win, the Rush swept the best-of-three set 2-0.
    Matthews, who finished second in the NLL regular season scoring race with 40 goals and 78 assists, led the way offensively for the Rush on Saturday netting two goals and four assists. Church, who was second in regular season team scoring with 35 goals and 42 assists, record two goals and three assists in the Rush’s series clinching win. Bold, who is the club’s standout goalie, made 32 key stops to preserve the one-goal win, which included holding the fort in the dying seconds of Saturday’s contest.
Mark Matthews signs autographs for fans at a rally last Friday.
    Backed by solid performances by those three, the Rush received what seemed like key contributions from the rest of their roster. Ben McIntosh had a pair of goals, while Jeff Cornwall, Matthew Dinsdale, Adam Jones, Ryan Keenan and Mike Messenger all had singles. Messenger, who is a rookie defender, had the winning tally with 13:34 to play in the fourth quarter.
    Eli McLaughlin had a hat trick for the Mammoth, while Jeremy Noble and Zack Greer both had two-goal nights. Greg Downing, Joey Cupido and Jacob Ruest all had singles for the visitors. Dillon Ward made 37 shots to take the loss in goal for the Mammoth.
    Besides being able to get up and down the floor in quick order, the Rush often make gifted athletic plays to score goals. Matthews has a habit of bringing the SaskTel Centre faithful, who numbered 14,052 on Saturday, out of their seats.
    Away from the game, the Rush players interact really well with the public. That could definitely be seen during a lunch time downtown rally last Friday a block south of the team’s office and gift store.
Jeremy Thompson is pictured with fans at a Rush rally.
    Players like Matthews and Bold kept signing autographs as the endless waves of supporters kept coming. Transition player Jeremy Thompson, who is also a huge fan favourite due to a big work ethic and motor that doesn’t stop, posed for numerous pictures as well.
    The thing that seems to make the Rush players stay down to earth is the fact they all have jobs away from the game. During the week they work regular jobs in their hometown communities, and on weekends, they fly to wherever the Rush are playing be it at home or on the road for games.
    The Rush will play one more home game during the 2017 campaign, and fans are likely hoping history will repeat itself with a victory party night in Saskatoon. In the best-of-three NLL title series, the Rush, who were 12-6 in the regular season, will face the Eastern Division champion in the Duluth based Georgia Swarm, who topped all NLL clubs with a 13-5 regular season record.
    Game 1 is set for Sunday, June 4 in Duluth, and Game 2 is slated for Saturday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. If necessary, Game 3 will be held on Sunday, June 18 in Duluth. If the Rush can sweep this series, they would win the Champion’s Cup for a second straight year at the SaskTel Centre.
    Last year, the Rush swept the Buffalo Bandits in the NLL title series 2-0, which including posting a series clinching 11-10 victory at the SaskTel Centre. 
Mascot Bruiser meets a young fan at the Rush rally.
    That game will be best remembered for Cornwall going coast-to-coast to score the winning goal with 12 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, which broke a 10-10 tie.
    The Swarm downed the Rush 18-10 in the only head-to-head meeting between the two clubs back on Jan. 7. 
    The Rush were without Bold and McIntosh in that contest because both were sitting out a one-game suspension for their participation in a brawl that broke out in a 9-6 pre-season win on Dec. 16, 2016 against the Calgary Roughnecks at the SaskTel Centre.
    With that noted, the series with the Swarm should be a tossup. Georgia’s roster includes second-year forward Lyle Thompson, who topped the NLL in scoring with 45 goals and 71 assists.
    The Rush have won the last two NLL titles. In 2015, they claimed the Champion’s Cup, when the franchise was still located in Edmonton. Last year, they repeated as NLL champs in their first year based in Saskatoon.

Rush office staffer Gulka becomes cult hero

    Saskatchewan Rush account executive Connor Gulka might be the most famous office staffer from all the Saskatoon-based sports teams at the moment.
    With just over 30 seconds to play in the fourth quarter of the Rush’s Western Division championship clinching series victory on Saturday, a fan climbed over the glass and ran out on to the playing surface. Gulka caught up to the fan and threw him to the turf.  The fan got up and ran off again, but was quickly apprehended by security.
    The video of Gulka throwing the idiot fan to the ground has been shown over a number of social media and mainstream media sources. On various social media channels, a number of other Rush fans have praised Gulka for the throw down, which is being dubbed the “Gulksmash.”
    What the idiot fan did in running out on to the floor was obviously stupid. What made it more stupid was the Rush had the ball, the momentum and were trying to close out a one-goal game that was still in the balance. Had the visiting Colorado Mammoth netted the equalizer on their last possession, there could have been a lot of unhappy people on the side of Rush Nation.
    As things played out, the Rush held on for the 11-10 victory. The idiot fan has been banded from SaskTel Centre events until further notice.
    On the total great lighter side of all this, Gulka gets more notoriety.

Murphy’s sure hands delivers last second Valkyries win

Kelsey Murphy came up with a huge catch for the Valkyries.
    Kelsey Murphy has always been one of the most popular players inside the Saskatoon Valkyries dressing room, so it was extra exciting for the team when she made the biggest playing in a thrilling comeback win.
    On Sunday night at Taylor Field in Regina, the Valkyries trailed the host Riot 17-13 with 1:58 remaining the fourth quarter. Starting with possession at their own 35, the Valkyries executed a two-minute drill drive and moved the ball down to the Riot eight yard line. With seven seconds remaining on the clock, sophomore quarterback Alex Eyolfson hit Murphy with an eight-yard touchdown toss to allow the Valkyries to win the game 20-17.
    Murphy, who is in her fourth season with the team, has always been a dependable receiver and also returns kicks. She is one of those players that will do any role that is asked of her by the coaching staff, and at times, her efforts get overlooked by those outside the team.
    Due to the fact the Valkyries are without star receiver Marci Halseth for the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, Murphy has seen more action this season. It was a feel good moment to see her step into the spotlight in one of the best games the Western Women’s Canadian Football League has seen in its young history dating back to 2011.
Alex Eyolfson fires a pass downfield for the Valkyries.
    Eyolfson has been a great story as well. Having graduated from Holy Cross High School in June of 2015 best known as a player on that institution’s elite senior girls’ basketball team, she joined the Valkyries last season as a rookie and played beside individuals who coached her in minor sports.
    As time has gone on, Eyolfson’s confidence has grown, and she has really taken charge of the team’s huddle. It has been an impressive sight, considering she is still one of the youngest players on the offensive side of the ball for the Valkyries. She can fire the ball downfield really well too.
    Valkyries power back Samantha Matheson ran for 117 yards and scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run in Sunday’s win. Carly Dyck nailed field goals from 38 and 25 yards out for Saskatoon.
Samantha Matheson was big for the Valkyries on Sunday.
    Carmen Agar ran the ball 16 times for 107 yards for the Riot and scored two touchdowns. Morgan Turner hit a 14-yard field goal for Regina.
    With Sunday’s result, the Valkryies and Riot both hold identical 2-1 records, but the Riot sit first in the WWCFL’s Prairie Conference thanks to holding a 33-20 edge in points scored in the two head-to-head meetings between the clubs. The Winnipeg Wolfpack and Manitoba Fearless both have identical 1-2 records to sit behind the two Saskatchewan squads.
    The regular season ends for the Prairie Conference teams this coming Sunday in Winnipeg. The Fearless will host the Valkyries and the Wolfpack will host the Riot.
    The first and second place clubs in the standings advance to a conference championship game, which is expected to be held on June 4.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.