The Edmonton Rush had one of their best seasons in franchise history, finishing the 2013 season with a 9-7 record and in a three-way tie for first place in the West Division. Unfortunately, their goal of reaching a second-straight Champion's Cup game fell short, as they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Stealth.
Some changes have been made leading up to the 2014 season, and now the Rush are gearing up to take another run at winning their first championship.
Edmonton's plans suffered a serious blow over the summer when forward Corey Small sustained a major knee injury in the Western Lacrosse Association's playoffs. Small was third on the Rush in scoring last year with 64 points and tied for second on the team in goals with 28. Replacing him will be a challenge.
Top point-getter Ryan Ward is also gone. Ward went the free agent route and accepted a contract with the Philadelphia Wings. His 75 points will also be missed.
Team captain Jimmy Quinlan retired over the summer, creating a hole in the transition game as well. Quinlan will be moving behind the bench as their defensive coach, so his leadership isn't completely lost.
The Rush will be counting on Rookie of the Year Mark Matthews to take the offensive lead moving forward. Matthews scored a franchise-record 38 goals in 2013 and is looking more and more like the next big thing in the NLL. It wouldn't be surprising if Matthews is challenging for the league's MVP award in the near future.
He is joined on the left side by Zack Greer who had a 28-goal, 56-point season last year.
Curtis Knight (46 pts) and Jarrett Davis (41 pts) give the Rush solid contributions on the right side and are supported by Cory Conway (37 pts) and rookies Robert Church and Riley Loewen.
On transition, Jeremy Thompson collected 131 loose balls and forced 20 turnovers last year. Thompson runs the ball up the floor as fast as anyone in the league, making him one of the more dangerous weapons on the team.
Steadily improving John Lafontaine (12 pts, 39 LBs) and rookie Adrian Sorichetti round out a young, energetic transition squad.
Defensive leader Kyle Rubisch is one of the best defenders in the NLL. He collected 128 loosies and forced a league-best 44 turnovers.
Chris Corbeil (107 LBs, 21 FTs), Brett Mydske (72 LBs, 28 FTs), Jeff Cornwall (50 LBs) and Ryan Dilks (59 LBs) complement Rubisch and form what might be the best defensive unit in the NLL.
Aaron Bold returns as the No. 1 goaltender for the Rush. His 10.56 goals-against average was second-best in the league and his backup, Brodie MacDonald, had an even more impressive 8.03 GAA in limited action.
A strong defensive corps will keep Edmonton competitive all season long. The question mark for this team is whether or not they'll be able to elevate their offense to the same level as last year.
Their first test will be on Saturday night, Dec. 28, when they travel to Denver to take on the Colorado Mammoth.
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