I’ve been a Toronto Rock fan since 2001, and have watched them win Championships live (2003, 2005, 2011) and on TV (2002), and have also watched them lose Championships live (2001) and on TV (2010 and now 2015). Obviously I’m disappointed in the outcome of the series, but part of me is glad the Rush won.
As much as I’d love to have seen the Rock win the Championship in memory of Terry Sanderson, I’m glad the Rush were able to win in memory of Wendy Keenan. The fact that both of these teams could have suffered such a devastating loss just before the season started and still make the finals speaks volumes to the feeling of family among them. And that Edmonton family was dealt another difficult blow when Aaron Bold’s girlfriend Michelle Fines was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of playing the season for Wendy, now they were playing for both Wendy and Michelle.
The team obviously has a ton of talented players and one of the best coaches in the league, so their success is not a big surprise. But doesn’t it seem that the Rush players were playing with just a little extra spark or something, particularly in Game 2 of the Finals? It’s probably the 20:20 hindsight talking, and if I knew nothing about their off-floor hardships I might not have noticed anything. But perhaps that extra motivation, plus the sound of 12,000+ Rush fans, was just enough to power the Rush to the Championship.
There’s also the fact that in sports, many teams have periods where they are strong contenders and periods where they’re not. The Oilers and Islanders were great in the 80’s and won several Cups each, but ended up near the bottom of the league later on. Even the Leafs went to the conference semifinals five out of six straight years (and the conference finals twice) in the early 2000’s, but have been terrible ever since. I remember the years when the Ottawa Senators were great and made it to the Stanley Cup finals once, but never won a Cup. Their window closed before they could achieve that goal. The Rush haven’t just been a very good team over the past two seasons, they have been amazing, having put together a 29-7 regular season record. But I’m sure the players will tell you that being the best team in the regular season means nothing if you don’t win the Championship. I’m glad they were able to achieve the ultimate success in the NLL before their window closed – not that that closure is imminent. This team could be very good for many years to come.
And I’m glad they were able to win it at home. Hopefully those 12,000+ fans can be an inspiration to Rush owner Bruce Urban. Urban said only a couple of weeks ago that it’s not unlikely that the Rush will be moving during the off-season because he couldn’t get a new arena deal in Edmonton. Maybe a bunch of the fans who showed up to that game will want to come back next year and watch this team defend its Championship. Maybe the turnout at Game 2 will be enough to prove to Urban and the city and the Oilers (who own Rexall Place) that pro lacrosse can work in Edmonton, and a deal can get worked out so the Rush don’t have to move.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still sad that my team lost. And I don’t want to take anything away from the Rock, they played really well. Brandon Miller played a fantastic game, the Rock D wasn’t quite as strong as Game 2 against Rochester but still played very well, and the offense played well too. Colin Doyle looked like the Doyle of old, Rob Hellyer scored a couple of beauties, and I’m liking Kevin Crowley’s additions to the team more and more – he’s not going to pull in the points that Billings did, but he plays well off the ball as well as defensively.
But the Rush defense was as stifling as ever, and Aaron Bold was excellent, as always. Mark Matthews played like the guy the Rush hoped they’d get when they drafted him almost three years ago. Not that he’s been a disappointment up until now, far from it. But he really stepped up his game this season and went from one of the best offensive players on the team to one of the best in the league. I made the bold (pun intended) prediction on twitter that he’ll be in the top 3 of MVP voting for the next ten years.
So I’m glad the Rush won for Derek and Wendy. For Aaron and Michelle. For Bruce. And for the Rush faithful who turned out strong to watch their team achieve the goal they had been chasing for ten years. Who knows – Wendy, Michelle, the fans, and the Championship might even have saved the franchise.
My most sincere congratulations to the 2015 Edmonton Rush.