A tale of two cities

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

They are technically considered expansion brothers but in fact the Edmonton Rush and Portland LumberJax are really distant cousins.

The two franchises couldn't have taken more opposite approaches to their first year in the National Lacrosse League. For the Rush, the inaugural season has been a disappointing one in most respects - none more obvious than the 1-12 record they carry into tonight's first-ever meeting with the LumberJax.

Meanwhile, the Jax stand 6-5 and not only have a grip on a playoff spot but have a fighting chance at first in the West Division.

"I'm not shocked we're doing as well as we are," said Portland GM/head coach Derek Keenan.

NO REASON FOR SURPRISE

And there's no reason he should be surprised. The Jax won a coin flip over the Rush to land the No. 1 pick in the NLL Entry Draft and with the pick they landed Brodie Merrill who is unquestionably the leading candidate for the league's top rookie award.

But Keenan also brought 11 players to Portland who had been with him a year earlier when he went down with the failed Anaheim franchise.

"It's a bit unfair to lump us together because they're not truly an expansion team. It's basically Anaheim transplanted in Portland,"said A.J. Jomha, Rush's director of lacrosse operations.

"We said right off that there were two approaches to take. Portland took the route of getting an established group of players together. We decided to put together a younger group and build around them."

Whatever approach is used, the Jax can boast a winning record.

"I think I was lucky in a lot of ways because I did manage to get a good number of the core guys from Anaheim and then attract some free agents that typically expansion teams don't get," said Keenan.

"Take a guy like Bruce Alexander. He could have gone anywhere he wanted but he saw what we were building here and was attracted to it."

But despite a league-worst record, Jomha is sticking with the Rush's chosen path.

"I would take our team over theirs," said Jomha. "They're very good but they're not the best in the division. I think we'll continue to get better and if they don't win right away, I don't know what their level of improvement will be.

"We're young and energetic and we've been able to build a lot since the beginning of the season. We've got lots of upside but we're still not going to stand still with what we've got."

In the race to the Champion's Cup, the LumberJax would seem to have an insurmountable lead on the Rush. But don't wave the checkered flag just yet, according to Rush veteran Jamey Bowen.

"There's no doubt in my mind we'll win a championship in Edmonton before they do in Portland," said Bowen.

"It's tough to say when you look at the records right now, but in the long run I think we're going to be much better off.

COMMITTED OWNERSHIP

"With (owner) Bruce Urban committed to backing us and with other players seeing how we're being treated even at 1-12, the free agents are going to be willing to give Edmonton a run. In the years to come, us and Calgary, Colorado and Toronto are going to be the places that guys want to play."

The Rush do have an edge on the LumberJax in terms of crowd support. Edmonton has averaged 10,475 fans through seven home games while Portland sits at 8,046 through six dates. But those numbers for the Jax are staggering compared to the dismal average of 4,829 they drew to The Pond as the Anaheim Storm.

"There's no comparison," laughed Keenan. "We still have a lot of work to do to build our fan base. Edmonton already has a great fan base and if they improve their record that fan base will be even better."


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