March 4, 2010

Alberta Accord: Edmonton Rush Finds Winning Mix

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Newcomers Brodie Merrill (pictured), Gavin Prout, Ryan Ward and Ryan Powell have hit their stride in Edmonton, where the Rush has won two straight and is eyeing first place in the West Division with Washington slipping.

Talent, leadership and, finally, collective confidence, have risen to the forefront, along with the fortunes of the Edmonton Rush.

The blending of holdovers, such as Andy Secore and Ian Hawksbee, with standouts acquired via dispersal draft or trade in Brodie Merrill, Gavin Prout , Ryan Ward and Ryan Powell have created a perfect storm in Alberta.

After a 3-3 start, the Rush has won two straight games over quality opponents. Toronto provided the first test and Edmonton passed, 14-13.

“It was a great team win,’’ Prout said. “I think the key was that we played desperate. There was lots of energy on both ends of the floor and great goaltending when needed. The offense played with passion, we kept the ball and our feet moving, so we were extremely hard to defend."

After the hard-fought victory, Prout believed that the offense was transformed.

“Our offense has found its identity, the recipe for success," he said. “If we play that way the entire year we will be going deep into the playoffs."

A week later, the Rush captured its first road win of the season, 12-11 in overtime against Rochester, which was previously undefeated at Blue Cross Arena.

Coach Derek Keenan’s team did not change the road routine or fire up a particular pre-game speech. It was just a case of melding a new group of players together.

“We have a ton of leaders on our team and a lot of champions," said Prout, a 2006 NLL champion with Colorado who was traded to Rochester in a Mammoth youth movement, then traded again to Edmonton.“It was just a matter of believing in ourselves and each other, and we stuck to the game plan, even though we were down by a bunch at the half."

Edmonton trailed 6-2 at halftime and 10-8 at the end of the third quarter. The Rush power play was anemic, converting just one of six power-play opportunities.

But in the fourth quarter, Merrill, Ward and Dane Stevens scored to force overtime, and Secore buried the game-winner just 20 seconds into the extra session on a pass from Stevens and Ward.

It was Secore’s third goal of the game. Holdover Jimmy Quinlan scored twice. Rookie Corey Small scored two goals and Merrill finished with one goal, one assist and 14 loose balls.

Prout, playing despite a severe case of strep throat and laryngitis, chipped in for the second consecutive game on faceoff duty, winning half his draws, and scoring once with three assists.

“I used to take draws a very long time ago in junior, and the very occasional ones in college and even in Colorado," he said. “It took awhile to get back into that mindset again. The most important thing I had to focus on was the communication with my faceoff team and making sure we were all the same page."

Prout (10 goals and 24 assists) and Ward, a former Minnesota star with 16 goals and 18 assists, lead the Rush with 34 points each. Merrill, who was dispersed from the defunct Portland franchise, along with Powell, has 26 points and 99 loose balls.

Secore has scored 15 goals and made nine assists. In seven games, Powell has 22 points, including seven goals, and Hill, formerly of the Knighthawks, has 10 goals in seven games.

Hawksbee, a stellar defenseman, has 57 loose balls.

Matt Disher has a 12.08 goals against average and the second-most minutes in the league, 447.

At 5-3, the Rush are eyeing division leader Washington (6-3), losers of three consecutive games after an undefeated start. 

Vinc A Game Changer

One week after losing to Boston in the longest game in NLL history, a 12-11 double overtime loss, Casey Powell and Matt Vinc led the Orlando Titans to a 16-12 triumph against the Rock in Toronto.

Powell racked up four goals and four assists to earn NLL Overall and Offensive player of the week award.

“We have a lot of weapons on offense, which makes it very hard on a defense,’’ Powell said. “I was able to get some good shots and found the back of the net. The 16 goals were a season high for us and hopefully, we can continue putting up those kinds of numbers."

Vinc’s 52 saves gained him the nod as NLL's Defensive Player of the Week. Vinc leads all goaltenders with a 9.13 goals against average.

“Matt keeps getting better every game, and has proven himself as the league’s top goalie," Powell said. “In a league that is so competitive, V is a game-changer and the Titans' most valuable player."

Although the Titans lead the East Division with a 4-2 mark, they’ve played the fewest games. In contrast, Toronto (6-4) has played the most games.

Short Shots

In a battle of struggling East Division squads, Philadelphia downed Buffalo 15-11. Geoff Snider won 26 of 29 faceoffs to earn NLL Transition Player of the Week honors. Drew Westervelt scored four goals. Mat Giles scored three, and the Wings converted five of seven power plays... The West Division version produced a 13-12 triumph by Minnesota at Colorado. The Storm scored twice in the final 97 seconds. Colorado had trailed 7-2 before rallying... Colorado’s Alex Gajic (three goals, one assist) won the NLL Rookie of the Week award despite the loss. 

NLL Light

There are only two games this weekend, both on Saturday. Orlando plays at Buffalo and Philadelphia plays at Calgary. The following weekend, there are seven games.

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