Skip to content

Sports This Week: Rush coach optimistic after huge team changes

Coach Quinlan said this is a team where players will be given “an opportunity” and with that opportunity he expects the Rush will be back in the playoff hunt this season.
quinlan 72
Jimmy Quinlan optimistic for 2023-24 NLL season. (File Photo)

YORKTON - Fans of the Saskatchewan Rush are going to need a program handy to recognize their team as they embark on the 2023-24 NLL season.

Gone from last season are forwards Mark Matthews, Dan Lintner, Matthew Dinsdale, Austin Madronic, Marshall Powless;  defence/transition players Kyle Rubisch, Matt Beers, and Ryan Dilks; and goaltenders Eric Penney, and Alex Buque.

That’s a long list and includes players such as Matthews and Rubisch who have been part of the familiar face of the team since before the Rush arrived in Saskatoon.

As you might expect with as many players gone, as was the case with the Rush, there are a ton of new faces too including forwards Patrick Dodds, Zach Manns, Mike Triolo, Nathaniel Kozevnikov, Cam Wengreniuk, and Jake Bowen; defence/transition players Adam Jay, Rylee McKinnon, and Jamie Dilks; and goaltenders Frank Scigliano, and Thomas Kiazyk.

The dramatic change – which even includes a revamped logo with a bison head – isn’t hugely surprising considering the team finished 8-10 for fifth in the NLL West last season and missed the playoffs.

While many new faces, the fate of the Rush this season is likely to rest squarely on the shoulders of Frank Scigliano.

The Rush have had something of a revolving door in the crease since the days of Evan Kirk – who incidentally returns as goaltender coach – and they will need Scigliano to finally settle things there.

Through training camp and preseason “Frankie has been really good,” Rush head coach Jimmy Quinlan told Yorkton This Week.

Quinlan said Scigliano wants to be involved in every play.

“He has a willingness to be in the net and take shots . . . That’s a good sign . . . He wants to be in there,” said the Rush coach, adding it’s to the point the back-ups have a hard time getting practice time.

That Scigliano wants to be in the net “is very calming” for the defence, added Quinlan.

But, it will take some league games to ensure the goaltending carousel has finally stopped.

Last season Buque looked good for the first half of the season.

“We thought we were in a good spot,” said Quinlan.

But then Buque faded, noted Quinlan adding it’s not easy to find a great netminder.

“They’re not easy to come by,” he said.

But solid netminding is essential to success.

“Without a guy who gives your team confidence it’s hard to continue to play the way you want to play,” said Quinlan.

When the Rush start the 2023-24 NLL season Friday, heading east to face the Halifax Thunderbirds it will also be the start of the post MM (Mark Matthews) era.

The Rush offence has largely ran through Matthews for years, an offence which scored 204 goals, tied for third in the west and eighth overall last season, Matthews accounted for 25 goals and a whopping 73 assists for 98 points.

Quinlan said you can’t exactly replace a Matthews, but you can become a different team effective in its own way.

“You can be a little harder to game plan for,” he said, adding teams have been able to key heavily on Matthews handling the ball.

As for goals, “we are trying to be more by committee,” said the Rush coach.

That said the Rush do return Robert Church and his 51 goals and 104 points and Ryan Keenan with 24 goals and 72 points.

In the case of Keenan, this will be a year he will play a larger offensive role.

“A lot of times in sport it’s opportunity,” said Quinlan.

While the Rush coach noted Keenan is a versatile player who “does everything . . . you can kind of play him all over,” and this year it will be his chance to be more offensive-minded.”

Part of the offensive plan is quick ball movement, and shoot at every opportunity, if that means 10 seconds into a procession, so be it, said Quinlan.

“If it’s at 20 seconds we’ll take it (too),” he said,

In the process of being more scoring diverse the Rush have also gotten bigger and that should mean tougher to play against, said Quinlan.

The size includes Mike Triolo, who comes in at 6-foot-8, and Will Dodds, at 6-3.

“It feels like we’ve got a lot bigger,” said Quinlan, adding defensively they want to use that size to dictate where they want opposition offence to go.

Now it is a case of blending all the old and new elements into a cohesive unit to be successful, hopefully from the start of things Dec. 1, said Quinlan.

Quinlan said this is a team where players will be given “an opportunity” and with that opportunity he expects the Rush will be back in the playoff hunt this season.