The Saskatchewan Rush are infamous for having the most rowdy and vocal fans in the National Lacrosse League. They never pass up an opportunity to share a piece of its collective mind with the opposition.
With the Humboldt Broncos tragedy top of mind, the raucous fans put all differences aside and produced the most profound moment of Saturday’s game.
Rather than booing the opposing team’s introduction — as per tradition — Rush nation stood and cheered loud for the team that defeated Saskatchewan in the Champions Cup final last year.
“It was awesome,” said Rush forward Mark Matthews after the game. “It’s all for one cause, to have that happen was pretty sweet.”
“It almost brought a tear to my eye.”
Both the Rush and its opponents, the Georgia Swarm, replaced its nameplates with “Humboldt” for the Rush and “Broncos” for the Swarm. All 29 names of everyone on board the Broncos’ bus on April 6 were displayed across the boards and the 50/50 totalling $84,980 was donated to the junior hockey club.
When the action got under way, it was Lyle Thompson dashing the hopes of the 14,745-person Sasktel Centre crowd, leading Georgia to a 16-10 victory over the Rush.
One of three Thompson brothers in the game, Lyle carried his team at times and scored a few momentum-killing goals as part of a five-goal night.
“It was a strange game, Rush head coach Derek Keenan said. “They obviously had a lot to play for, fighting for their playoff lives.”
“I thought we generated a tonne of really good scoring chances and we didn’t finish.”
It wasn’t for a lack of effort. Saskatchewan hit upwards of a dozen posts and crossbars, but none bounced into the net.
Keenan couldn’t remember a game where at least a few bounces didn’t go his team’s way, but shrugged it off by simply saying, “that’s lacrosse.”
Collectively, the team didn’t have the stamina to overtake a playoff hungry team, playing its second game in two nights.
Saskatchewan walloped the Vancouver Stealth 20-10 on Friday in Langley, B.C. before arriving back in Saskatoon Saturday morning ahead of ball drop.
Down 3-1 early, the Rush would claw the game to a 4-3 score before Georgia would rattle off five consecutive goals and keep the Rush off the scoreboard for nearly 20 minutes.
The fortunate Swarm bounces were evident in the second quarter. A rebound from Evan Kirk bounced off Kyle Rubisch and into the net shortly after Thompson sent a bounce shot from half into the back of the net.
Taking a 10-4 lead into the fourth quarter, a flurry of goals would do nothing to change the scoring balance to end at 16-10.
“Too little, too late I guess,” said Matthews. “It was a very frustrating game all around.”
Robert Church crossed the 100-point mark on the season with a goal and three assists for the first time in his career. He sits second in league scoring behind Matthews 108 points.
A note of concern for the Rush is the status of leading defender Brett Mydske.
Mydske left early in the game with what Keenan is calling an “upper body injury.” He expects him to be ready come playoff time.
The injury added to the exhaustion of the Rush, forcing the team to play with nine defenders for a majority of the game.
“It’s tough to play against their offence when they only have nine guys (on defence) and it showed there late,” said Matthews as his team wore out to end the game.
Saskatchewan enters another bye week before rounding out the regular season on April 28 against the Vancouver Stealth.
If you ask Keenan, he’d be happy with another performance like Saturday’s to gear up for the post-season.
“We played hard and that’s what we want to do going forward into the playoffs,” Keenan said.