At the end of the 2012 regular season, the Rush were the least likely team to make the finals (other than the Stealth). Despite a strong second half of the season, they were 6-10, had lost two in a row, and faced the 12-4 Calgary Roughnecks in the first round. But the Rush found a way to not only pull off a win against the Riggers, but they did it convincingly, winning 19-11. The next game was even more convincing, a 15-3 drubbing of the Minnesota Swarm which put them in the Championship game for the first time in franchise history. The final game started off looking like it would be more of the same for the Rush, as they led the Knighthawks 5-1 at halftime. But the ‘Hawks scored 8 of the last 9 goals, including 7 in a row, to pull off the comeback. The Rush got farther into the playoffs than they ever had before but I imagine they are still disappointed with the result.
Only one team gave up fewer goals than the Rush in 2012, but nobody scored fewer. Their top two scorers, Shawn Williams and Ryan Ward, were 16th and 28th in the league respectively.
So if your team is struggling offensively but sparkles defensively, what do you do? I know! Trade your top scorer and another veteran scorer who had an off year and bring in transition guys! Sounds dumb, right? Well, maybe not. Yes, losing Williams will hurt, but Wilson wasn’t the offensive threat they expected him to be. Wilson scored just over half the points he had in Minnesota in 2011 and just over a third of what he had in 2010. Scott Evans was also released, though he missed the last few games of the season and the playoffs anyway. But they did get Cory Conway from Calgary, so that will replace some of the offense.
And then there’s Mark Matthews.
The hype around this guy is unreal, and it seems that some people are expecting Matthews to look like John Grant right out of the gate. Obviously that’s a bit unrealistic, but 60+ points is almost expected, and an Adam Jones / Kevin Crowley-type rookie season (75+ points) would not be out of the question. The Rush have also added Alex Turner, who didn’t play last year but picked up 39 points for the Wings in 2011, and rookie Curtis Knight (along with Matthews) has previously played for Rush GM and head coach Derek Keenan in his role as coach of the Whitby Warriors.
The Rush lost Derek Suddons (traded) and Steve Toll (CLax) but gained Jarrett Davis and Jeremy Thompson so defense and transition still look good, and Aaron Bold and Brodie MacDonald form one of the better goalie tandems in the NLL, so no problems on that end.
The loss of Paul Rabil means nothing, since neither he nor the guy he replaced, Athan Iannucci, played a single game for the Rush last year.
Should we just give Mark Matthews the Rookie of the Year award now?
Also, will the Rush come back down to Earth after their rise to the Championship game, or did their strong play in the 2012 playoffs give them the confidence the team has lacked for years?
By the numbers, Conway + Matthews could offset Williams + Wilson + 3/4 of Evans. But trying to set your offense up to be better than that of the 2012 Rush is not that lofty a goal. As good a goal-scorer as Shawn Williams is, he’s one of the best passers in the history of the league. Can Matthews or Conway or anyone else step up and be that guy?
I’m just not sure about the Rush. Anywhere from first to fifth in the west is possible, but my uncertainty keeps pushing them down. Calgary will be great, Minnesota and Colorado really good, and I don’t think Washington is as bad as last year make them look, which leaves Edmonton. I don’t really see them as a last-place team but someone has to finish last, and I’m just less unsure about the other teams. I’m going to have to say fifth in the west.
Lost Williams, Wilson
But wait, help is on the way
Matthews is the man