March 31, 2014

Relentless Rush Go Where No Team Has Gone Before

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter

Jarrett Davis and the scrappy Edmonton Rush are doing what no team in NLL history has done. (Graig Abel)

TORONTO - What Jarrett Davis did late in the game Sunday afternoon says it all about the Edmonton Rush.

They led by four with seven minutes remaining. The way the Rush were dominating the Rock, the record for longest undefeated streak in an NLL season was in the bag. They had it. Yet, instead of taking it easy and ragging the ball, Davis takes off with two Rock defenders whacking at him with all their might, dives into the crease, stuffs the ball behind goaltender Brandon Miller a second before his body crashes to the green carpet, and puts the Rush up by five.

These guys are relentless. No wonder they are 13-0.

''Until the final buzzer goes, we can't stop,'' Davis explained afterwards. ''If we'd been up by eight goals, I would still have done that. If you take your foot off the gas pedal, you'll get burned. I'd do that 10 times out of 10, every time.''

The Rush had gone into Rochester the previous night and defeated the two-time defending champion Knighthawks 15-11, ridden a bus for four long hours through a snowstorm to the border, checked into a Toronto hotel at 3:30 a.m., spread around equipment to air it out before bedding down, filed into Air Canada Centre shortly after noon to analyse video and stretch the muscles before the 3 p.m. game, and somehow found the energy to overcome a 7-6 halftime deficit and outwork the Rock for the record win.

''When we gut one out like that, it's a real testament to our team,'' said forward Mark Matthews.

The Rush took the lead for good in the ACC in the middle of the third quarter. The defense and goaltender Aaron Bold did not allow a Rock goal during three consecutive penalty kills, while defensemen Ryan Dilks and Chris Corbeil scored short-handed goals on fast breaks.

''Those were big,'' said forward Zack Greer. ''Our trannie guys have done a great job all year giving us spark. When something like that happens, it picks up the bench. Everybody feeds off of that.''

The Knighthawks, the snowstorm, the Rock _ nothing could stop the Rush from extending their undefeated streak.

''It was a big weekend for us, no doubt,'' said Greer. ''You never know what you're going to get on these back-to-backs. We had two tough games. We got the bus legs out during the first half and picked it up in the second. Boldie played great and our D shut them down in the second half to allow us to get the offense going.''

Eight of the 18 players in Edmonton uniforms grew up within an hour's drive of the ACC so there were pockets of vocal Rush supporters among the 10, 655 spectators. After the game, the players all raised their sticks to thank family members and friends for their support, with a special nod to the section in which head coach Derek Keenan's wife was sitting. She has pancreatic cancer. Keenan played lacrosse against her brother, Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. Latest updates have been encouraging.

''She's doing better than expected,'' says Keenan.

Keenan and assistant coaches Jeff McComb (offense) and Jimmy Quinlan (defense) are getting the most out of every player, and the players have no difficulty busting their butts for the trio behind the bench.

''I can't say enough about our coaches,'' said Davis. ''They've gone above and beyond this season.

''Jeff has stepped into the role amazingly well and Jimmy, who was such a big part of our team as a player the last 10 years, has stepped into a coaching role and done an amazing job. Coach Keenan, I can't say enough about the guy, what he preaches in the dressing room and everything that he's going through right now. He's an absolute role model. He's really the leader of this team. All our success is because of him.''

Edmonton's next game is at home against 5-9 Colorado on Saturday.

'' We've met all our expectations so far,'' Davis said. ''We're 13-0, something nobody has done in this league before.

''We're extremely excited about it but we still feel as if we haven't accomplished anything this year other than meeting goals we set at the start of the season. Our end goal is the championship game. We're close but we still have some work to do.''

Keenan obviously has a lot on his plate.

''Every week is a new hurdle,'' he says. ''We win our game this weekend and we clinch first overall. We want to do it on our own. We've paved our own road and we want to continue to do that.''

Corbeil is the captain. He's scoring more goals than any other defenseman in the league, and he's part of the best back end in the business. What he's saying about the streak today sounds a lot like he was saying a month ago.

''Not much changes,'' says Corbeil. ''We just try to take it one game at a time. The key for us is that we haven't been looking too far ahead. We just look to our next opponent and try to come out and get wins one game at a time, win one quarter at a time, one five-minute segment at a time. That's been our approach and it's working for us.''

''It's steady as she goes right now,'' said defenseman Kyle Rubisch.

Winning never gets boring.

''Things are going good right now and we want to keep it going as long as possible,'' Rubisch added.

''It's an unbelievable feeling,'' faceoff specialist Jeremy Thompson said of win No. 13. ''It's unreal. All the guys are on a high temp with the team chemistry we've got from our goaltending on out _ defense, transition, offense _ it's just a great team effort. It's awesome to be winning so many games. With our streak, we've had a lot of tough battles, which bring learning experiences. We've had a lot of learning lessons this season.''

''It's a hard-work mentally we keep on bringing every game,'' said Bold, who joined his teammates' chorus of lauding the work of the coaches.

Quinlan will finally get to be on the Rush bench for a home playoff game. It never happened during his playing career. Working with defensemen Chris Corbeil, Kyle Rubisch, Brett Mydske, John Lintz, Jeff Cornwall, Ryan Dilks and Nik Bilic has been rewarding.

''We're fortunate to have the back end that we have,'' says Quinlan. ''Mainly, I just open the gate and let them go. They're a great group. They want to learn, they want to play, and they want feedback. My job is to try to put them in a position to be successful and then let them do the work. They've been great at doing that. We like to play a high-pressure defense and we're fortunate to have 77 (Bold) back there.''

Edmonton is No. 1 overall but only No. 6 in average attendance well below the 9,000-plus league-wide average.

''Every guy likes to play in front of a big crowd but that's not something we worry about too much,'' says Davis. ''The fans who are there are amazing. Hopefully, they'll come if we keep winning. If not, it's not the end of the world.''

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