In my preview of the Edmonton Rush, I picked them to finish last in the West – not because I thought they were a last place team, but because there was so much uncertainty. Would Aaron Bold continue his strong play from 2012? Would the defense continue to dominate? Would Mark Matthews turn out to be the star everyone thought he would be? And after a 1-4 start, it looked like the Rush might have to wait at least another year to get back to the Championship game. But they’ve now won seven of their last eight games including five in a row, and have looked pretty dominant doing so. Sunday’s game against the Rock was no exception.
The first quarter might have been the Rock’s worst quarter of the season. The offense was sloppy, passes were missing their targets by several feet, lots of fancy over-the-shoulder passes were made to teammates not expecting them, and Nick Rose did not have his best game. Two minutes into the second, Rose was pulled for Zach Boychuk and the Rock were down 8-2. Shots after the first quarter were 22-8 for the Rush. Boychuk allowed another goal fairly quickly but then settled down and held the Rush scoreless for the next 12 minutes. Boychuk was hot and cold the rest of the way – he made a couple of holy-cow-how-did-he-stop-that saves, but let in a few softies as well. Boychuk is a much more athletic goalie than Rose; while Rose seems to move as little as possible to make the saves, Boychuk moves around a lot more. Not that either style is better or worse – whatever works.
The Rock’s play did improve over the next few quarters but still not up to the level of the Rush, who were simply dominant. Matthews didn’t have a huge game stat-wise, three goals and an assist, but he anchored the offense. And “anchor” is a pretty accurate description of this big guy – he can plow through defenders like they’re not there. His presence forced the Rock to focus more on him and allow the rest of the Rush forwards some good looks, but it was their defenders and transition guys that provided much of the scoring. Chris Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch, two of the best defenders in the game, contributed at both ends of the floor with two goals each, and Mydske, Dilks, LaFontaine, and Thompson each scored as well.
I’ve always liked Jeremy Thompson as a player. He can score, he can defend, he’s fast, he can fight (as we saw – see below), he can do faceoffs, and he has a very cool twitter profile picture (right). On Sunday, he displayed another skill: getting under the skin of his opponents, which directly resulted in at least two power plays for the Rush. On the opening face-off of the second quarter, he said or did something to Patrick Merrill. From what I saw, the ref blew the whistle to start the quarter and then immediately signaled that the Rock should have possession. Merrill suddenly walked away from the ball and started cross-checking Thompson across the chest. Thompson simply walked backwards taking the hits until Merrill was given a penalty. Not a smart play by Merrill. Then just a few minutes later, Thompson said or did something to Scott Evans, who dropped his gloves and went after him. Again, Thompson did nothing and Evans went to the penalty box. To add insult to injury, Thompson himself scored on the resulting power play. Surely after watching the Bandits implode year after year after year by taking stupid penalties, the Rock would have learned to let the other team do that and not to do it themselves. Actually the Rock are usually pretty good for keeping their heads on straight, but not on this night.
All in all, it was a rather ugly game for the Rock. But they ran into a hot Edmonton Rush team, who have replaced the Rock at the top of Brian Shanahan’s power rankings list. I saw a few tweets before the game that this game might have been a Champion’s Cup preview. If so, the Rock will have to keep their heads on straight and clean up (or cut down on) the fancy passing in the rematch.
Other game notes:
- The Edmonton defense was very strong. There were times that I was waiting for the whistle and the “too many men” call, because there were seven or eight defenders out there. But no, there were only five.
- In one play in the second quarter, Kyle Rubisch approached a group of three players all huddled together and checked them all at once, knocking two of them down.
- After being pulled in the second quarter, Nick Rose sat on the bench for the rest of the game with his helmet on.
- The fight: in the third quarter, Scott Johnston grabbed Jeremy Thompson and wouldn’t let him go. He held Thompson by the facemask and eventually pulled his helmet off. Thompson looked like he had no real interest in the fight, but after Johnston finally threw the first actual punch, Thompson pulled Johnston’s mask off and got a few punches in before Johnston suplex’ed him to the floor. Decision: Thompson.
- The Rock’s transition game (defense-to-offense) is one of the best they’ve had in years. But their offense-to-defense is a bit more of a problem. There was a fair bit of lollygagging by the offense on their way back to the bench. You know what that makes them? Lollygaggers.