The stage is now set for the NLL's final game of the year.
The Edmonton Rush will face the Rochester Knighthawks in a Champion's Cup game that no one would have predicted just a couple weeks ago.
The Rush, who finished the year with a 6-10 record and the fewest goals scored in the regular season, have gone on a postseason tear, scoring 34 times while only giving up 14. In the process, they have easily dispatched two of the four teams in the league who finished with records above .500.
Last week's 15-3 beat down of the Minnesota Swarm was a consistent display of how hard work and deadly execution can pay huge dividends.
The Knighthawks have been faced with similar obstacles. They have taken out the Philadelphia Wings, who they dominated all year long, and last week soundly defeated the defending NLL champs, the Toronto Rock.
Edmonton and Rochester have only faced each other three times in their history and not at all this year, so both teams will be forced to feel each other out a little in the early going. However, an offseason trade prior to this season means both teams still do have a little insight into how their opposition goes about their business.
Shawn Williams and Aaron Bold were sent by Rochester to Edmonton in exchange for Alexander Kedoh-Hill and Ryan Cousins. All four have made contributions to their new teams.
Cousins has been a steady contributor to the K'Hawk defense and Kedoh-Hill gave the team two points per game in limited action during the regular season.
Williams and Bold have been major pieces in the Rush puzzle, however.
Williams led the team in points during the regular season, tallying 68. Along the way, he became just the sixth player in NLL history to record 1,000 career points and broke the league ironman streak, currently at 196 games.
Williams was with the Knighthawks when they won the Champion's Cup in 2007 and is still the team's all-time assists leader, so his ties to the team are significant.
Bold, meanwhile, was the backup goalie in Rochester to Matt Vinc last year. This year, as a member of the Rush, he has come into his own, playing all but 23 minutes of the season and finishing in the top three in goals against (10.47) and save percentage (.775).
He's been even better in the playoffs, with a spectacular 7.03 goals against and even more spectacular save percentage of .848.
Bold is supported by one of the top defensive units in the NLL. The top dog is Kyle Rubisch, who led the league in forced turnovers with 43 and earned the Defensive Player of the Year Award last week.
Ryan Ward has been leading the way offensively for Edmonton in the playoffs, notching a league-leading nine goals and 18 points. With teammates Corey Small and Aaron Wilson currently in second and third in playoff scoring, the seemingly anemic Rush offense has suddenly come alive.
On Rochester's side, Joe Walters has been the top point-getter in the playoffs with 10, while Cody Jamieson has earned nine. Four different Knighthawks have scored four goals in the postseason, so they have several options on the offensive side.
The 2012 Champion's Cup winner will be:
During the regular season Walters was limited to just six games played. Scoring instead was coming from Jamieson and Cody Vitarelli (29 goals), along with Mike Accursi (66 points), Stephen Keogh (58 points) and rookie Johnny Powless (50 points).
This is a tough game to call. On paper, it looks like Rochester has the advantage, since they have a two-time Goalie of the Year in net (Vinc) and scored two dozen more times during the regular season. However, Edmonton has been nothing short of brilliant in the postseason and look like a team that can do no wrong at this point.
I'm going to go with my gut on this one and say experience trumps a hot hand. I'm predicting a 12-10 Knighthawks win.
May the best team win!
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