SASKATOON - It is hardly a secret that the Saskatchewan Rush have been scuffling to find wins this season.
Prior to the weekend the perennial National Lacrosse League contender had managed a paltry two wins in eight tries, and if you are a fan you sort of knew a move was coming.
And it did as the Rush made a trade last week moving the club’s 23rd overall pick in the 2022 National Lacrosse League (NLL) Entry Draft to the Philadelphia Wings in exchange for goaltender Eric Penney and a second-round selection in the 2023.
“We think Eric gives us more experience as a starter in the NLL,” said Rush General Manager Derek Keenan in a team release. “We are at a critical stage in our season and believe Penney and Shute can form a really solid tandem in goal.”
Penney spent five years with Vancouver before joining Philadelphia this season. He was drafted in the fifth round (38th overall) in the 2013 Entry Draft, by the Warriors.
Hailing from Rexdale, ON. Penney, who stands 6-foot-0, 225 pounds, played 81 games with Vancouver from 2015-to-2020 managing a 13.02 goals against average and a .762 save percentage.
Penney appeared in only one game for the Wings this season, where he turned in a 50-save performance as the Wings beat Georgia 12-11 in overtime.
The good performance in his one start in Philly seemed to flow right into his first action with the Rush. Just days after the trade he was in net as Saskatchewan hosted Colorado, a team with six wins headed into the contest.
The game would prove a goaltending duel with Penney finally outlasting Dillon Ward as the game went deep into overtime before Robert Church scored the game-winner, his fifth of the night for a Rush win.
Penney faced 46-shots, making some much-needed saves as Ward stood on his head facing 72.
“You’ve got to give huge credit to Ward, he’s a phenomenal goalie,” Penney told Yorkton This Week.
Penney said through the years he’s battled Ward before and added he recognized in such games he’s got to play his best.
“I try to up the competition level a bit,” he admitted.
For Penney to move to Saskatchewan is a sort of restart opportunity, having been in only one start as a Wing. He said when the Philly GM was telling him about the trade he said “it was a good opportunity,” as it would give Penney “some more minutes” which would give him the chance to round back into form “as a starter again in the league.”
That said the trade and weekend start still happened in a flash.
“It kind of happened really quick,” said Penney who added one day he was studying game film on Halifax, scheduled to be Philly’s weekend opponent, the next he was traded, travelling to Saskatoon, and getting ready for the Mammoth.
Coming in Penney said he recognized he was going to be looked at to sort of come up big and help the team get the much needed win.
“I tried to keep it even, but we all knew our backs were against the wall to turn things around,” he said.
As a goaltender Penney said he just tries to stay focused on his singular job.
“A goaltender’s job is to stop the ball,” he said, adding when one does get by it’s on to the next one. “. . . The most important thing is to stop the next one. The next save is the most important save.”
And that is where Penney tries to stay in terms of mindset, adding he just tries to do his job, and “not worry about the big picture, just make one stop at a time.”
That is the mental aspect of the position, staying laser focused on the job, and remaining calm no matter what is happening in front of him.
The calm exterior is something Penney said he feels he is good at maintaining, adding when a netminder is calm he believes it permeates through the team.
It helps on the Rush that it has a lot of sage veterans who have been through it all on the lacrosse floor, said Penney.
“The great thing with Saskatchewan . . . there’s so many great talented players. You kind of know everybody has everybody else’s backs,” he said.
The veteran presence includes a deep defence, arguably the best Penney has had playing in front of him as a pro.
“There’s so many great guys on the defensive team. It makes the job (of netminder) a little bit easier,” he said. “They get in the lanes ... They’re (the opposition) not getting the shots they want to take.”
Now Penney in tandem with Adam Shute will need to continue to thwart opposition shooters if the Rush are to claw back into a playoff spot.
While only having casual on-floor conversation with Shute over the years, Penney said after having lunch with the Rush netminder he’s looking forward to building a solid ‘one-two punch” in net for Saskatchewan.
As for wins, Penney said a character one like the OT nail-biter over the Mammoth can be the sort of things to get a team on a positive track for the rest of the season.
“It was a big team win,” he said.