YORKTON / SASKATOON - For Saskatchewan Rush fans a trip to the National Lacrosse League post season has become the norm, the team having made the playoffs ever season since moving to Saskatoon.
Or, that had been the case up until the just completed 2021-22 season, a season in which the Rush struggled to find wins early, which finally led to head coach Jeff McComb being let go.
McComb was replaced by the tandem of GM Derek Keenan and assistant coach Jimmy Quinlan taking the reins as associate coaches through the final four games – all Rush wins, but it was the old case of too little too late as the Rush’s record of 8-10 had then fourth in the NLL west but losing the last playoff spot to the crossover Philadelphia Wings at 9-9.
While the Rush missed the playoffs they did win their final four games of the season after the coaching change, and Quinlan will be back as head coach this fall.
Quinlan said Monday the coaching change wasn’t expected, but it has provided him with an opportunity.
“I’m very excited. I was surprised when it happened, but at the same time very excited,” he told Yorkton This Week.
And while the playoffs slipped through their grasp Quinlan said the team responded very well to the change.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” he said.
The problem was a terrible start to the season going 4-10.
“As inconsistent as we were, we kind of made the bed we’re sleeping in,” said Quinlan.
The problem early was finding a way to salt away wins.
“The last part of the season we were pretty good to start games, but not as crisp as we needed to be in the second half (of games),” said Quinlan.
When he took the reins Quinlan said he tried to take it back to a pretty basic idea, focusing on what each player’s role was within the team, and on what they needed to do to accomplish that role.
“I wanted to get them moving in the right direction . . . I wanted to clearly identify player’s roles,” he said, adding he was proud of the way the players bought in and the results they achieved winning their final four games. “. . .The last month of the season we figured out some things and we’ll be better for it moving forward.”
The month also gave Quinlan time to evaluate some of the young Rush talent from the perspective of being head coach. He liked what he saw.
One of the young players to impress was Holden Garlent, who finished the season with 18 points in 18 games to lead all Rush defenceman in scoring this season.
“I didn’t realize how good he was in all facets of the game,” said Quinlan.
Defenceman Bobby Kidd III and Connor McClelland impressed too.
“Both are exceptional athletes,” said Quinlan, adding both have better stick skills than many on defence.
Forward Marshall Powless drew praise as well.
“He continued to improve when not always being in the line-up,” offered Quinlan.
And Quinlan sees a lot of potential in 2022 draft picks transition player Jake Boudreau and defender Ryan Barnable joining the mix this fall, noting they might be invaluable as two veteran ‘D’ Kyle Rubisch and Chris Corbeil could leave as free agents this summer. He said there will be discussions with GM Derek Keenan regarding Rush free agents and the upcoming NLL expansion draft as the league welcomes the Las Vegas Desert Dogs as its 15th franchise.
As for free agents, Quinlan said you can’t replace veterans like Corbeil and Rubisch but added “these players have earned that opportunity (to explore options). All we can do is make our best pitch.”
In that regard Quinlan said the last four games are a positive to players to think about.
“We did finish our season on a high note,” he said, reflecting once more on what an early season win, or two could have meant. “. . . Confidence as a team and success as a team go hand-in-hand. Some early success could have led to a completely different season, and the playoffs . . . but you can only deal with what is in front of you.”
For Quinlan and the Rush that is a playoff watching other teams on TV, and waiting for a new season, one the new head coach said he fully expects the team to be back in the hunt for the upper echelon in the NLL and a return to the playoffs.
As for the NLL playoffs, three Canadian teams are in the hunt.
The Halifax Thunderbirds face the Toronto Rock May 6, in a one-game quarterfinal contest while out west the Calgary Roughnecks host the Colorado Mammoth, also May 6.