Stephen Skoreyko arrived at the Edmonton Rush's open tryout with the dream of becoming a professional lacrosse player.
Yesterday, he wore a brand-spanking new silver and black jersey bearing the Rush logo - a clear indicator that he had indeed made it to the big time. Skoreyko was also branded with a fresh nickname. The 22-year-old defenceman made such an impression at the free-agent camp that he's been labelled "KO" by his teammates.
"I was trying to get involved physically and send a message to show that it's a tough game and I'm a tough player," said Skoreyko at the Rush's jersey unveiling and practice at West Edmonton Mall's Ice Palace.
Skoreyko had not specifically set out to open a can of whup-ass on a fellow contender, but his one-sided beatdown opened the coaching staff's eyes. He may only be listed at five-foot-11 and 195 pounds but he slugs like a heavyweight. While the Rush have much larger players in the mix, Skoreyko's brash style was a element the expansion National Lacrosse League team was seeking.
His fast hands in that tussle garnered Skoreyko, who appropriately lists Fight Club as his favourite movie, some initial attention before his all-around game landed the NAIT student a spot on the club's 26-man roster. He's one of 19 players who are either from Edmonton or are relocating to the city.
The Rush have the third-highest number of players living in the team's marketplace. Since NLL clubs are only allowed one practice as a squad per week, having the vast majority of players together between games will allow for informal workouts and pickup games.
"It's so tough with a 16-game schedule and a new team to build chemistry, and the more time we get together, the more chemistry we can build," said Rush head coach Paul Day. "The majority of the guys that are commuting here are only a hour or so away (two flying in from Victoria and four others from Vancouver). I had guys in Rochester that had four- or six-hour drives to get to home games."
NO IDENTITY CRISIS
The close proximity of the players could help the Rush's identity in the community.
"Guys can come here and work and help promote the team," said Day. "Some new franchises in the past didn't have success because they had nobody living in the market."
Although Peter Gut was born in Edmonton, it's been a long time since he's played lacrosse at home. A former all-star in the American college ranks, Gut lived and studied in North Carolina for the past several years but has returned with an eagerness to suit up for the Rush.
"I remember when I first started playing lacrosse, wishing that there was a team here just to go and watch," said the 23-year-old who plays in the transition role.
"I was a late starter in lacrosse - I didn't start playing till I was in high school and then I was able to play in college. To come back here when they're starting a team is an awesome experience."
Skoreyko, a product of the Mill Woods Warriors amateur program, expects local fans will get a charge out of the new team.
"I'm glad to be a part of it and I know fans will love it,"he said. "Anybody that likes hockey and the intensity of football is going to love lacrosse.''
QUICK STICKS: Day, assistant coach Jim Milligan and goaltender Pat Campbell have the longest commutes, as they'll fly in from Toronto ... The Rush will host Minnesota in a closed exhibition game at Rexall Place next month ... Finishing touches to the team's jerseys, particularly silver bands of barbed wire, were designed by Cindy Urban, the wife of majority owner Bruce Urban.