Folks, they did it. The Saskatchewan Rush have brought home the National Lacrosse League Champion’s Cup. A breakaway goal by Jeff Cornwall with 12 seconds left sealed up a 11-10 win over the Buffalo Bandits to clinch the title, and they blew the roof off of SaskTel Centre. It was a great series, with both games coming right down to the wire. Tomorrow, the big victory celebration happens in downtown Saskatoon.
All this for a team and a sport, lacrosse, that most locals knew absolutely nothing about a year earlier.
This weekend was surely the greatest occasion in the history of sports in Saskatoon. Fortunately, it was a calm scene after the game, no reports of rioting on 8th Street or any of that. The Rush have only been in Saskatoon a short period of time but they have already won over the community. You see the Rush logo now on billboards and flags, and even on the taxi cabs all over the city.
As for the Rush, what a job they have done. They have truly raised the bar for every sports franchise in the province for how to be a successful franchise — not only on the field but off it as well, with their sellout crowds. It truly morphed into a “happening”. Moreover, the Rush injected a dose of “fun” back into the fan experience of going to sporting events in the wheat and potash province. Too often in Saskatchewan – even at ‘Riders games – fans go to the stadium or arena to be miserable. Not with this Rush team. They win too often for that.
The atmosphere in the arena was so wild and raucous, in fact, that the place ended up known as #SaskVegas. It was totally different from the atmosphere for Blades games or any other sports event there.
The party that lasted all NLL season at SaskTel Centre is now going to last all off-season, too, for Rush fans. And it had better, because it appears the Saskatchewan Roughriders are going to have another nothing season like the last one. They held their Green-White scrimmage game in Saskatoon on the weekend, right before the Rush game, and the play was so awful that coach and GM Chris Jones said he wanted to throw up.
Oh, well, at least we have one Cup to cheer about.
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.
Work update again: this past week has been much quieter for me personally than it has been for a while as I had a number of scheduled days off (one of them a stat holiday). As a result, yesterday I was able to brave the inclement road conditions and was one of the over 11K fans at the Saskatchewan Rush game at SaskTel Centre, where I met and got autographs from the Seattle Sea Gals NFL cheerleaders.
After the game the Rush held their usual autograph session, but even though the players and the Rush cheerleaders were also signing autographs the biggest lineup by far was for the Sea Gals. Gee, I wonder why… ! (I should also point out most of those in line for the Sea Gals were guys.)
Unfortunately, I never did get to tell the Sea Gals that my whole family has been to Seattle several times and that most of them now live not far away in British Columbia, where they get countless Seahawks games on TV.
Going to Saskatoon unfortunately meant missing out on free tickets to see comedian Tom Green perform in North Battleford, but that’s life. Anyway, given I have some free time today I thought I would post some links to the more interesting local stories I have reported on in recent weeks.
For those wondering if I feel I am missing out on all the political action with the primaries going on in the USA, don’t worry, there is still interesting political stuff going on here. I was recently at a Saskatchewan Young New Democrats provincial meeting in North Battleford, and had a chance to report on that. Soon, we’ll be covering the provincial election, so I’ll be inundated with political coverage soon.
Also, I posted a long-overdue story about my December vacation in Cuba, complete with some vacation pictures (like this one from Revolution Square in Havana, above).
As with the story I did a few years ago about Las Vegas, this piece focused on providing tips and advice to travellers who may be considering that sun destination for a vacation. Unfortunately, I don’t think too many of the locals will be making travel plans any time soon. Vacation deals have really dried up as of late, not just for Cuba but everywhere in general.
Finally, remember how I complained about having to miss watching New Hampshire primary night results because I had to go cover a Chamber of Commerce dinner? Well, my story on that event is here. Also, I’m happy to report the food was good.
That is all for now; stay tuned tonight for my live coverage here and on Twitter of the South Carolina and Nevada results. There won’t be any dinners interrupting that, I can assure you.
Over at SaskTel Centre, the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush take on the team that won the previous three titles in a row, the Rochester Knighthawks, in National Lacrosse League action. Appearing at the game will be the Seattle Sea Gals cheerleaders from the NFL Seahawks (pictured)! This is the second year in a row they’ve worked a home Rush game — although last year it was in Edmonton.
So, obviously, the football-obsessed locals are all going to want to be there and a massive crowd is expected, likely the biggest of the season. I understand that Rod Pedersen and the gang from CKRM will also be there broadcasting the SportsCage show live prior to the game. Heck, this is shaping up as the most media coverage the Rush have gotten all year.
The same night downtown at TCU Place is the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner, and while it is going to be impossible to live up to last year’s epic tribute to Gordie Howe, they are giving it a good try — and as with the Rush game it will be NFL-themed. Co-hosting the dinner this year is legendary quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers as well as sportscaster Charissa Thompson of Fox Sports 1!
Sports fans in Saskatoon are surely looking forward to tomorrow. It almost makes one forget about the Saskatchewan Roughriders — who, as an aside, released their schedule today to much local fanfare.
I just thought I would add my two cents about the sports scene in Saskatchewan, and in particular about the arrival of the National Lacrosse League and the Saskatchewan Rush. The Rush are a hit! I was glad to see over 9,000 fans at SaskTel Centre for the first game. By contrast, both the UFC Fight Night event and the NHL exhibition game last fall (with Connor McDavid and the Oilers) saw a much lower gate, closer to 7 thousand. Quite honestly, if I were Lee Genier, president of the Rush, I’d be ecstatic. All that saturation promotion of the Rush on Saskatoon billboards and on TV (with their commercials littering the NFL games on CTV) did the job — in spite of the obvious non-interest shown by much of the sports media in Saskatchewan. Thanks for nothing, you guys. Fortunately, the people have spoken.
The good news is that there are all kinds of reports of people giving the game experience rave reviews. On social media I am seeing a lot of comments from people who say they will go back for another game. This is exactly what had to happen — the Rush needed a big crowd in order to accomplish big word of mouth. I think the momentum is just going to build for this.
As for the whole fallout from the Weston Dressler-John Chick departures from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, fans are starting to calm down, but a lot of bitterness remains. All I have to say to Saskatchewan football fans is keep things in perspective. It could be far worse — you could be a football fan in St. Louis.
That is it for now. Coming up soon: News from Nowhere.
I am hoping Saskatchewan sports fans turn away from Hockey Night in Canada long enough to see pro sports history, as Saskatoon’s newest franchise the Saskatchewan Rush open their National Lacrosse League season tonight in Calgary against the Roughnecks!
The game is on tonight at 8pm on TSN3, so this game ought to be great free advertising for the Rush in their marketing efforts leading up to their first home game at SaskTel Centre in two weeks. At least, I hope so. That is it for now.
Update: And HISTORY was made as the Rush came back from a 6-2 deficit to beat Calgary 10-8. All in all, I think Saskatchewan fans who tuned in were impressed not only with how well the team played but the whole entertainment value of the contest. Too bad these TSN announcers kept on messing up and referring to the team as “Edmonton”.
Well, the anticipation is building among pro lacrosse fans for the upcoming arrival of the National Lacrosse League in Saskatoon! Tonight, the defending Cup champion Saskatchewan Rush take the field for the first time since they announced their move, as they play the Toronto Rock in preseason play at The Arena at TD Place in Ottawa. Game time is 7 pm Eastern time.
And the NLL season cannot come a moment too soon, because I am sick and tired of hearing about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and all the endless drama surrounding that organization, and I am already fed up with the WHL and the Saskatoon Blades. I want to see something more high-level, and this is it.
As an aside, I’m kind of getting concerned about the lack of hype for this team so far. On the one hand, the Rush are certainly making their best effort with billboards and social media, and they have a brand new office downtown where their merchandise and tickets are being sold, and yet I’m not seeing a ton of media interest yet about the team. I’m hoping between now and mid-January, when the Rush play their first home game at SaskTel Centre, that people will see the highlights of their road games on TV and see what a big deal this league actually is, and hopefully that will convince people to go out and support it, or at the very least cover the games! That’s my rant about that.
It has been a busy last couple of weeks for myself on the sports beat. On the local sports scene alone in the past 72 hours I have covered two high school football games, an SJHL game, a AAA midget hockey game, and a roller derby game.
As you may know, roller derby is on the comeback again and lots of women are playing it, and we now have an organized league here that has regular matches. The local roller derby game was heavily promoted as the “Blood Moon” game because of the supermoon lunar eclipse that is happening late tonight.
I took a lot of photos but the story will have to be a short one. Unfortunately, it became obvious rather quickly last night that I have absolutely no clue what the rules are for roller derby.
Today, I file the pictures I’ve taken over the last couple of days and hopefully after that I might be able to rest my back, which is acting up again due to all this writing and blogging I am doing lately. I clearly am overdue for that vacation which I have been putting off over and over again. I need to finally use my backlog of vacation time, eventually.
Other thoughts about other happenings in sports:
The Toronto Blue Jays have officially ended their 22-year playoff drought and have clinched at least the home field for the wild card game — which they hopefully won’t need to play because they lead the division by four games and their magic number to clinch over the New York Yankees is five.
Needless to say, I am a very happy and proud Blue Jays fan today. Beyond the fact that they’re winning, they are also exciting to watch. The home runs have been just flying lately.
They had their ace David Price on the mound yesterday against Tampa Bay and it was kind of a bad day for pitchers in general, but the Blue Jays did manage to win 10-8. Today’s game is the last home game of the regular season so hopefully the Jays can get one more crucial win at home before they go on the road. It is great to see Blue Jays fever return to Rogers Centre and all over the country. May I note it is far more fun being a baseball fan when your team is “in it.”
I should also note the same is true in football. But alas, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not “in it”, though they do remain mathematically alive as they face the Montreal Alouettes at home. I was surprised to find out that they only have one more home game after this, against Edmonton, and I am going wow, football is almost over already here?
Maybe Canadian football should expand its season so it’s as long as the Australian football season. On that note — Hawthorn and West Coast Eagles are set for the Grand Final.
And if you think plane ticket prices are bad in Canada, due to the state of our dollar and so on, apparently for West Coast fans it’s cheaper to fly to London, England from Perth than it is to fly to Melbourne for the Grand Final.
Anyway, we don’t have any of these problems in Saskatchewan, because Winnipeg is close enough that we don’t even need to fly there for the Grey Cup. Apparently, ticket sales are still slow.
In other ticket sales, only 7500 showed up for Connor McDavid and the NHL preseason game between the Oilers and Wild in Saskatoon. Not surprised, really, there was really not a lot of buzz out there for the game and plenty of the usual local negativity about preseason NHL hockey and all that.
And season ticket sales are now on for the new Saskatchewan Rush in the National Lacrosse League, so hopefully they get some fan support.
The biggest obstacle is familiarizing a lot of local fans with the game, as this is still more of a football-hockey-curling area. So a lot of fans might be wondering if they would like pro lacrosse. Folks, all you need to do is just go on YouTube and see the videos there of NLL games, especially some of ones featuring the Toronto Rock’s championships from the early 2000s. That was intense stuff, with winning goals scored in the final second of the game and so on.
That ought to give you an idea, but if that doesn’t work, check out the coverage and watch the videos of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships 2015 going on right now in upstate New York. Good stuff.
And that is all for now.