It was a banner night all around for the reigning NLL champion Saskatchewan Rush.
The Rush raised their 2018 NLL Cup championship banner to the rafters of SaskTel Centre on Saturday night and then picked up their first win of the 2019 season with a 16-12 victory over the San Diego Seals before a raucous crowd of 13,713.
Saskatchewan’s duo of Ben McIntosh and Jeff Shattler combined for nine goals and five assists as the Rush evened their record after dropping their season-opener last weekend in New England.
“It was cool to get one more chance to celebrate that championship, but we’re on to 2019 and we’ve got to go back out and win it again,” said McIntosh, who finished the night with nine points a week after he and the Rush offence had their struggles in the loss at New England.
“Those games happen. Tonight, we got some good looks and put the ball in the back of the net. You want those looks in the middle of the floor. We got more of those, got some hard picks, and we were able to generate those opportunities and capitalize on them.”
The two teams engaged in a firewagon first quarter, going back and forth and piling up 11 total goals. McIntosh scored a pair 25 seconds apart for Saskatchewan and then added his hat-trick tally on a perfectly executed spin move around the defender followed by a shot to the far corner past Seals goalie Frank Scigliano.
The Seals counted their third power-play goal of the first quarter and second straight man-up goal from Austin Staats before the Rush took a 6-5 lead with 2.3 seconds left in the frame on a missile from the top of the slot by Marty Dinsdale.
More offence came in a flurry to start the second quarter as the teams traded goals, including a fourth power-play goal for the Seals coming from Garrett Billings. The Rush jumped ahead to stay, though, with 3.3 seconds to go in the half as Mark Matthews bulled his way into the middle and fired a rocket through Scigliano’s legs.
The Rush pulled away in the third quarter with three goals all coming via their special teams. Shattler counted his second of the night with Saskatchewan’s first shorthanded goal of the season as he found some room on the wing and whipped a sidearm shot home. Just over three minutes later, McIntosh connected for his fourth on the Rush’s first power-play of the game as he used his trademark quick-stick release to finish off a feed from Matthews. Only 1:39 later, the Rush power play struck again as Shattler registered his hat-trick marker, taking a pass from Travis Cornwall and slotting in a quick-stick shot.
San Diego counted two goals late in the third quarter, but the Rush responded 57 seconds into the fourth quarter on Shattler’s fourth of the game. The 2018 NLL Cup MVP collected the rebound off Ryan Keenan’s shot, outdueled Scigliano in tight with some shifty stickhandling and putting his shot into the far corner to make it 14-10.
McIntosh pocketed his fifth of the night with an unassisted effort, bouncing off a defender’s check and sending a low laser into the net.
The Rush rounded out their scoring with rookie Connor Robinson notching his first NLL goal on an impressive turnaround quick-stick shot from the slot.
Keenan, Curtis Knight, and rookie Jordi Jones-Smith also scored for the Rush, who got 36 saves from netminder Evan Kirk. Dinsdale finished with six points (1 goal, 5 assists) while Knight (1 goal, 4 assists), Shattler (4 goals, 1 assist) and Matthews (2 goals, 3 assists) all totaled five points each. Jones-Smith not only scored his first pro goal, but it was also the Rush’s first in transition this season.
“I didn’t score a whole lot in junior so to get it in my second NLL game is very cool,” said Jones-Smith. “I took the hit, took the shot and hoped for the best and it went in.”
Staats, the first overall pick in 2018 draft, continued his torrid start to the season with four goals for the Seals with Billings, Turner Evans and Kyle Buchanan adding two apiece. Former Rush Adrian Sorichetti and Dan Dawson also scored for San Diego.
Saskatchewan returns to the turf next Saturday as they head back on the road to visit the Vancouver Warriors. San Diego finally gets its first home game on the same night as they host the Rochester Knighthawks.