It just seems like yesterday that the National Lacrosse League season was getting under way, wasn’t it? Here we are, already, nearing the end of the regular season with the Saskatchewan Rush ready to host their final home game of the regular season against the Colorado Mammoth, with first place in the West on the line tonight. They played last night with the Rush winning in Denver 11-5, and apparently we are lucky to even have a game tonight. Both teams had to scramble to get out of Denver before a massive snowstorm hit.
It is going to be another sellout tonight at SaskTel Centre of just under 15,000, the second sellout in a row, and that is probably the biggest story of this whole season for the Rush — the fan support. It’s been amazing, particularly the last few games. The playoffs promise to be more of the same.
It shows you how much desire there was in Saskatoon for something better than what they had on the sports scene there. A lot of people had written off Saskatoon’s ability as a sports town, pointing particularly to the empty seats at the WHL Blades games, but the reality is fans have had little to be enthusiastic about. The product Saskatoon had been saddled with always seemed bush league, whether it was the chronically-underachieving Blades, or these lousy pro teams in these fly-by-night leagues that would go belly-up.
The same thing was true for these NHL pre-season games, in which the first-line players would rarely be in the lineup. Fans felt they were getting burned, so a lot of them didn’t buy tickets. The reality is Saskatoon fans are smart; they won’t waste money on a product they consider substandard. I always thought Saskatoon would really respond to a quality product in a quality, established professional league. And the NLL has been around for 30 years.
The Rush have certainly shown they are a big time product, and the gameday experience is getting rave reviews. The whole production is major league, and that is what has been missing in Saskatoon sports up until now. And the marketing has been superb. I think a lot of people in Saskatoon appreciate the level of effort being put into this by the organization.
More than that, the timing of the move was excellent. It really has been the perfect storm, with the Rush arriving just as the Blades were again stinking it up on the ice in the WHL, and with the Saskatchewan Roughriders having just let down all their fans coming off one of their worst seasons ever.
So the Rush have really been able to fill a big sporting void and create a lot of sorely-needed excitement. The fact that the Rush are winning and are the defending champions of the league, is kind of the icing on the cake.
While these sell outs are well and good it would be nice, though, if the fans in Saskatchewan started caring a little more about the players and the personalities on the team — like the high-scoring Mark Matthews and stars like Robert Church, Zack Greer, netminder Aaron Bold and others on the team. It seems like whenever I hear these sports guys in the province talk about the Rush, all they want to talk about is how it’s the hottest ticket in town and what a great success it is. But the actual games? Not much.
Maybe the knowledge will come with time, but it’s still obvious people here still need to brush up on their lacrosse knowledge a bit more. You get the impression a lot of fans still probably don’t know who most of these players in the league are. The bottom line is there’s still work to be done to drum up more interest, even with these games selling out. Anyway, that’s all for now, it’s almost time for the big game.