The celebrations started early.
Even with three minutes left in the game, Rush Nation knew its team wouldn’t be denied another National Lacrosse League title.
The “We want the cup” chants that rang throughout the game became a distant memory moments later.
The final buzzer rang. The crowd was deafening. The cup was theirs.
The Saskatchewan Rush beat the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 Saturday at Sasktel Centre, spurring another celebration with its fans after winning its best-of-three NLL Cup series in front of its home crowd of 13, 645.
“It feels great because it was disappointment last year for all our guys,” said head coach Derek Keenan on the field following the game as he dusted fresh confetti off his shoes. “We talked about it from the very first day of training camp.”
“I remember being in Toronto, our first game of the regular season, and saying to our guys, ‘You know what? I think last year was a blip on the radar for this team. We’re going to get it done this year’ and they’ve been focused on that all year.”
That statement couldn’t have been more clear for a team that dominated through the regular season en route to a 15-5 record before getting past the Calgary Roughnecks and Rochester in the playoffs.
The win captured Saskatchewan’s third title in four years.
On this night, it was two unlikely sources playing the role of hero.
Jeff Shattler, a 33-year-old NLL legend playing 11 years for Calgary, signed with Saskatchewan on the first day of free agency way back in August. 10 months later, Shattler was awarded the NLL Finals MVP.
As Keenan said following the victory, “He’s such a complete player, but his offence took over in the playoffs.”
“I love the playoffs, man,” Shattler said after his four goal and one assist evening.
“I’ve always been a playoff player. I’ve always loved the intensity of it. I love that it’s a do-or-die situation. It’s why I play lacrosse and man I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.”
Shattler finished the playoffs with eight goals and seven assists, for 15 points and his second career NLL trophy after winning it all with the Roughnecks in 2009.
The other hero was played by 30-year-old Chris Corbeil. He not only punished K-Hawks players in his own end all night, but ran down loose balls and scored three timely goals for a hat trick after scoring only seven goals all season.
It washes away a bitter taste he’s had in his mouth since last year’s NLL final when he bobbled a pass with his net empty that allowed Georgia to score and then win in overtime.
“After the season ended, I apologized to all the guys because I really felt like we should have been playing in game three for a championship, but I dropped the ball and didn’t give my brothers a chance,” Corbeil said after Saturday’s game.
“When that buzzer went… it does feel like there’s a weight off my shoulders.”
It was the first time an NLL Final went to three games.
The game started rather stale after finishing the first quarter 1-0 for Rochester. Things began to open up on the floor as the teams took to halftime with the Rush up 6-4.
The turning point in the game came with just over eight minutes left. Rochester scored to take an 8-7 lead and hush the rowdy Rush fans. Four unanswered goals would doom the Knighthawks, before Corbeil sealed the victory with an empty-netter with 2:34 remaining for the game’s final goal.
Mark Matthews was the top point-getter with eight assists.
With the NLL growing by two teams next season, the Rush are slated to lose some players to expansion drafts, making Saturday’s win that much sweeter.
“This felt like a really good group. I can’t thank (Derek) Keenan enough for getting me from Buffalo (back in 2011). It changed my career,”Corbeil said as he turned and looked to his coach at the post-game press conference.
“You’re welcome. It changed my career, too,” Keenan instantly responded with some laughter.
With another six months until the next NLL season begins, Keenan couldn’t leave without thanking the loyal supporters one last time.
“It’s almost the middle of June and we’ve got almost 14, 000 people in the building when the farmers are back farming, people are getting to their cottages, cabins and trailers on weekends,” Keenan said of the fan support.
“To have this many people here this late is pretty impressive.”
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