Saskatchewan Rush win second straight NLL title

Saskatchewan Rush win second straight NLL title

The nine-team National Lacrosse League aims to expand and the sales pitch to buyers will surely include video of the deciding game of a 2016 Champion’s Cup final that ended with the Saskatchewan Rush rallying in the fourth quarter and winning on a goal by Jeff Cornwall with 12 seconds remaining.

If this doesn’t convince prospective franchise owners to hop on board, nothing will.

THE CHAMPIONS, AGAIN

The Buffalo Bandits led 9-7 when the final quarter began Saturday night.  Mark Matthews made it 9-8 and two goals in 54 seconds by Robert Church put the Rush up 10-9 with 4:44 left. A fast-break goal by Kevin Brownell tied it 10-10 with 4:25 to go.

The 15,182 witnesses who’d packed SaskTel Centre got to their feet. Would the team that had arrived for a better arena lease deal after winning the 2015 championship in Edmonton 364 days earlier kiss the trophy again? Nobody was aware of any team in any sport celebrating title-clinching wins at home in different cities in consecutive years.

The Bandits called timeout with 32 seconds left. Players gathered at their bench to devise a scoring play. When play resumed, Ryan Benesch got into position for the shot he and his teammates hoped would lift them to the franchise’s first championship since 2008. Benesch’s shot missed the net, caromed off the back boards and bounced high to the middle of the green carpet.

Cornwall was there. He gathered in the ball with his stick and raced towards Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo on a breakaway. The 25-year-old Rush player from Coquitlam, B.C., had broken into the NLL with Buffalo in 2012. After five games, the Bandits him to the Rush for two second-round draft picks. He developed into an integral part of GM-coach Derek Keenan’s back end. Cornwall’s only shot of the game eluded Cosmo, and the crowd went wild.

BREAKAWAY BLISS

That was not the end.

Buffalo was awarded possession off the ensuing faceoff. Four seconds showed on the game timer. The refs added four more. Play was whistled in with the ball in the stick of the NLL’s record-setting goal scorer, Dhane Smith. It went to Benesch, who again had a chance to be the hero. Aaron Bold made the save and time expired. The crowd erupted again and Rush players swarmed Bold, who was named MVP. Buffalo outshot Saskatchewan 57-54.

Captain Chris Corbeil accepted the Champion’s Cup, held it high, and handed it off to Curtis Knight, the forward who had led the team in scoring in 2014 but who missed the 2015 season recovering from a knee injury. Knight passed it to Jarrett Davis and on it went to Brett Mydske, then Ryan Dilks, Zack Greer, Church, Kyle Rubisch, Nic Bilic, Cornwall, Jeremy Thompson, Ben McIntosh, Matthews, Adrian Sorichetti, John LaFontaine, Dan Taylor, Riley Loewen, John Lintz,  and on and on until every player, coach, trainer and equipment man had hugged the trophy. Their singe-word motto: brothers. All the hugs spoke to that truth.

“Every person on this team is willing to go through the wall for the other guy,” said Cornwall. “That’s the strength of our team.”

Travis Cornwall, who plays for the NLL’s team in Calgary, congratulated his brother on Twitter: “When all those days you forced your lill bro @JeffCornwall to spend hours hitting the post in your front yard finally pay off @SaskRushLAX.”

The beyond-wildest-dreams success of the relocated Rush was the story of the year in the world’s premier indoor pro lacrosse league before Saturday. Now, well, years from now people might be shaking their heads in disbelief when told how thoroughly this group was embraced in a place so far from Canada’s lacrosse hotbeds.

“Like a dream,” Bold responded when asked how it all felt.

THE MVP

Bold and Dilks have won four championships in the last year: NLL, Mann Cup with Victoria Shamrocks, world indoor with Team Canada, and NLL again.

The fabulously talented Bandits would have been worthy champions.

“Never been more proud to be a @NLLBandits,” defenseman David Brock typed into Twitter. “We will be back. Thx for support banditland Congratulations @SaskRushLAX.”

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