SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan Rush are one win away from winning their second National Lacrosse League championship in the last three years.
The Rush dumped the Rochester Knighthawks 16-9 in Game 1 of the NLL Championship series before 11,842 spectators at the SaskTel Centre on Saturday
Saskatchewan head coach Derek Keenan said the team put forth a "complete effort," but shined in particular at forcing the Knighthawks to give up the ball.
"I thought we created a lot of turnovers early and it gave us an opportunity for some extra possessions," he said.
"We scored six transition goals. That is a big part of our game. We were up and down on it this year, but in playoffs so far, we have 10 in two games. I'm sure they are going to focus on that next week, but we don't mind grinding it out five-on-five."
The hosts got the early momentum when fan favourite Jeremy Thompson fired home a low shot off a transition break that fooled Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc at the 2:34 mark of the first quarter.
After that tally, the Knights pulled ahead 4-3 early in the second quarter before the Rush proceeded to explode for seven straight goals between 7:05 mark of the second and the 3:39 mark of the third quarter.
Forward Robert Church fired home three straight markers to start the surge and to give the Rush a 6-4 edge at halftime. Ben McIntosh, Jeff Cornwall, Ryan Keenan and Mark Matthews tallied singles for the Rush in the first 3:39 of the third quarter to expand Saskatchewan's advantage to 10-4.
From there on out, the Rush cruised to victory.
"It was a good game," said Church. "We played a really good 60 minutes as a team.
"That is the best we have played all year, and we're going to bring that same effort next week. We really want to bring it home."
Church led the Rush with four goals and Keenan had a hat trick. McIntosh and Cornwall each had two goal nights, while Matthew Dinsdale, Matt Hossack and Mike Messenger rounded out the scoring for Saskatchewan with singles.
Eric Fannell had a pair of goals for the Knighthawks, while Graeme Hossack, Austin Shanks, Joe Resetarits, Cody Jamieson, Josh Currier, Cory Vitarelli and Kyle Jackson also found the back of the net.
The Knighthawks won both the head-to-head regular season meetings with the Rush.
After Saturday's clash, Fannell, the Knighthawks star forward who is from St. Catharines, Ont., appeared shocked about the outcome.
"We just have to regroup and play our game next time and just keep fighting, and we will come out victorious," said Fannell. "They got a couple of transition goals, and they got a power-play goal.
"If we can keep them five-on-five and play within our defence with our goaltending, our offence will put the ball in the net."
Evan Kirk turned away 35 shots for the Rush. Vinc stopped 48 shots for the Knighthawks.
Church believes the Rush are now in the driver's seat for the short series. After winning the NLL title in 2016 during the franchise's first campaign in Saskatchewan, the Rush were swept in last year's final by the Georgia Swarm.
Church said the goal is to wrap up the best-of-three series in Game 2, when the Knighthawks host the Rush in Rochester on June 2.
"I think it puts the pressure on them," said Church. "They have to win to keep the series alive.
"For us, we've been here before. We want to put them away. We don't want to come to Game 3 back here."
If a third game is necessary, it will be held on June 9 in Saskatoon.
Darren Steinke, The Canadian Press