December 20, 2013

NLL West Division Preview: Edmonton Rush

by Neil Stevens | | NLL 2014 Preview

Mark Matthews was as good as advertised, but the Rush fell short of expectations in 2013 with a first-round playoff exit. (Photo courtesy of Edmonton Rush)

2013 record: 9-7

Playoffs: Lost first-round playoff game 12-11 at Washington, a huge disappointment after trip to the title game in 2012.

This was one of the most entertaining teams to watch last season -- the sensational 38-goal debut of No. 1 draft pick Mark Matthews being a big reason for that -- and great things are expected this season. The Rush were third in goals scored and second in goals allowed last season, proving the franchise has moved into the elite realm.

Still, general manager and coach Derek Keenan can't be satisfied, especially after the first-round playoff demise.

"We have to play better and win at home," Keenan said. "That's what it comes down to. We were 2-6 at home and 7-1 on the road. A lot of times it was a case of not closing games out. We had games where we had big leads and we kind of let them slip away. Our special teams at home need to be a lot better and we need to play a more consistent game at home. Playing better at home -- that's going to be the key." 

Corey Small, second on the team with 28 goals last winter, will miss most of the season rehabbing from a knee injury suffered playing summer ball. Jimmy Quinlan retired, so there will be a new Rush captain.

Draft picks Robert Church, Riley Loewen and Adrian Sorichetti are good enough to play in the NLL now.

"Church, in my mind, plays right away as long as he comes to camp fit," Keenan said. "With Corey out for the year, in all likelihood, we drafted Loewen who played junior with Matthews in Coquitlam when they won the Minto Cup."

Neil Stevens' NLL 2014 Season Preview (in projected order of finish)

NLL East Preview

1. Rochester Knighthawks
2. Minnesota Swarm
3. Toronto Rock
4. Buffalo Bandits
5. Philadelphia Wings 

NLL West Division

1. Edmonton Rush
2. Calgary Roughnecks
3. Vancouver Stealth
4. Colorado Mammoth
» Where are the Americans? 

Keenan has several versatile players on his offense's right side. Sorichetti could be a similar fit on the left side.

"With smaller rosters, it's important to have versatile guys who can play anywhere on the floor," he said. 

The immediate future looks bright in Edmonton.

"We're really at a stage now, although young, we've built a really solid foundation," Keenan said. "I know in our core group there's a lot of bitterness how it ended last season. They want to get right back at it. They believe we have an opportunity this season to win a championship."

It would help if goaltender Aaron Bold improves on his 2013 save percentage, which was only eighth-best among the nine first-stringers.

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