YORKTON - To say the Saskatchewan Rush season was a disappointing one would be understatement of the highest degree.
After missing the playoffs in 2021-22 with an 8-10 record, just on the outside behind Calgary at 10-8, there was an expectation of better things this season.
It didn’t happen. The Rush started strong, faltered, then won their last two games of the schedule to again finish 8-10, but were left in fifth spot in the NLL west just back of Colorado at 9-9.
It’s been close, but no cigar for two seasons, and head coach Jimmy Quinlan says that simply isn’t good enough.
“We feel like the province of Saskatchewan and the city of Saskatoon, deserve a playoff team,” he told Yorkton This Week in a recent interview.
The question is how to take that step from a slightly sub. 500 team the last two seasons?
Quinlan said early in the season he thought the Rush had righted the proverbial ship.
“I thought we had the guys to do it. . . I think what was disheartening is that we had such a good start,” he said, adding through five games this season he thought the team “was in a good spot.”
And then they went backwards facing some of the same issues of a season earlier, defensive lapses, late game implosions, and in the end too many losses.
“The reality, we couldn’t find 60-minutes (consistency),” said Quinlan, adding the team had too many lapses to win games they looked to have a shot at. “ . . . We’ve got to make less mistakes.”
Quinlan said a lead would erode as a game progressed “and then doubt would seep in.”
Some nights it was defensive lapses, some nights goaltender inconsistency, some nights the inability to score a timely goal.
In goal Alex Buque looked to be the answer early in the season, but that didn’t last.
“He struggled to find some consistency . . . Even with the game it wasn’t good enough,” said Quinlan, adding he has spoken to his goaltender and explained “he’s going to have to make some changes,” if he wants a key role next season.
One bright glimmer was Warman, Sask. netminder Laine Hruska who started the last two games of the season, winning both.
Quinlan said Hruska allowed the team to win over Colorado at home, and while he hit a bump in Las Vegas he made big stops late to let the Rush come back to win.
“He’s a young goaltender that has a lot to work on, but he’s not afraid of that work,” said his coach.
Overall though Quinlan said changes need to be made, suggesting in general terms “we want to get bigger in some areas, and more athletic.”
Those needs might be addressed in the draft, but Quinlan hinted trades are likely to happen too.
“We probably have to give up some stuff (to fill specific needs),” he said.
In season end interviews with players Quinlan also had a message, the entire team needs to be in better shape. He said there were times it showed late in games.
Pointing to a late game loss to Halifax Quinlan noted, “we just ran out of gas in that game.”
With NLL teams generally only coming together on weekends for games, conditioning is largely left up to players, and Quinlan said they need to do that better moving forward.
There were of course bright sports like Jerrett Smith “who we just kind of found off the street,” said Quinlan of the Winnipeg product, adding he was far better than they expected.
Clark Walter “was unbelievable for us,” added Quinlan, noting a goal a game made him “a pleasant surprise.”
Mike Messenger drew praise too taking on a key role, with Holden Garlent showing signs of becoming a leader on the back end.
Veteran Robert Church, a free agent this off season, but likely to be back as a ‘franchise’ label is attached to him, was a veteran that did it every night scoring 51 goals, behind only Connor Fields, 52, and Jeff Teat 56 for the league lead. Church had 53 assists for 104 points.
Mark Matthews, inked long term had 73 assists fourth best in the NLL, to go with 25 goals.