SEATTLE — Even in a run-and-gun league, it’s defence that will eventually win a championship.
The Edmonton Rush are confident in their ability to put the ball in the net, but it’s keeping it out at the other end against the Washington Stealth Saturday that may prove to be the biggest challenge.
“We have to try to do the same things we did last week,” said Rush defenceman Ian Hawksbee. “Both teams have great offences, but we have to do what we did against Calgary, keep them to the outside and not let them dictate the play.
“They have a lot of shooters and a lot of guys that can go inside. We have to make sure we stick to our game plan and everybody has to know what their role is and stick to it.”
Defensively, the Rush were happy with their effort against the Calgary Roughnecks, despite giving up nearly 70 shots.
Heading into their National Lacrosse League semifinal against the Stealth, the Rush are looking for a similar outcome, although without giving up as many efforts on goal.
“Washington just have so many weapons,” said Rush head coach and GM Derek Keenan. “You can't cover them all, so you’re not going to stop them all, You just have to try and limit their quality chances.
“Just like going up against any goal scorer, you need to limit their time and space in those key scoring areas. In other areas away from the net, you don’t have to be as aggressive on them.”
The Stealth present an even tougher challenge than the one the Roughnecks offered up. As the top team in the West Division this season, they have a number of players who can find the net.
They boast the league’s second-leading scorer in Lewis Ratcliff, who finished the regular season with 97 points.
They also get a strong contribution from sophomore Rhys Duch, who lit up the Minnesota Swarm last weekend, collecting 11 points in the 14-10 victory.
Talking about keeping the Stealth out on the perimeter and actually doing it are two different things.
“You can’t go chasing them all over the place, because they’re too athletic,” said Keenan. “At the same time you need to be able to get in their shooting lanes and angle them off, so that you’re pushing things to the outside lanes and they’re taking bad angle shots.
“With Lewis Ratcliff, however, we find with him, if he gets up a lot of speed, and is running at you, he’s hard to contain. He’s a guy that we want to take more time and space away from. We will play tighter on him a little bit more. But it’s a matter of keeping them to those outside lanes and not letting them turn the corner. I thought the last time we played them here, we did a really good job of that. They got a number of goals in the fourth quarter, but a lot of them were broken-play type goals. For the most part, I thought we really had a good defensive game plan and we executed it quite well.”
Communication will also be a key.
The Rush need to play strong team defence as well as get outstanding goaltending from Matt Disher in order to slow down the Stealth offrence.
“You have to talk to each other,” Hawksbee said. “For example, if someone sets a pick, you have to let your teammate know early so they can either switch with you or grab the guy that’s setting the pick. That pretty much takes away their two-man game and runs the shot clock down.
“They have a lot of good secondary players. Everyone has to stay on their checks. We all have a job to do and we have to focus on that. We have to play as a unit and that’s going to help us get through it.”