|Edmonton Rush Head Coach Derek Keenan shakes Brodie Merrill's hand during the Edmonton Rush's press conference to announce Merrill as captain for the upcoming 2011 National Lacrosse League Season on December 17. (LAURA PEDERSON/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - If turning the Edmonton Rush into a contender took a major overhaul last year, then Derek Keenan is now focused on fine-tuning this year's roster into champions.
Heading into his second season as general manager and head coach of the NLL club, Keenan is looking to build on what he began to put together to push the Rush to a franchise-best 10-6 record on their way to not only an inaugural playoff appearance, but ending up an overtime goal shy of hosting the Champion's Cup.
"I think there's a lot less uncertainty this year," said Keenan, who cut just four bodies from training camp in order to reach the 23-man active roster by last Tuesday's deadline. "Last year, it was so new and so many new players, new team and new staff. Everything was just new. Now I think there's more of a comfort level from my perspective."
But as for the players, those who made the grade have to know the hard work has only just begun.
"You don't them to have that comfort level that they're there forever, so you want to have that edginess to them," said Keenan, adding the roster isn't finalized and could change before their season-opener in Toronto Jan. 8 Ñ or even into March, for that matter. "There was a lot of transactions (this week). There are some good players floating around out there, so certainly we need to take an objective look at everything and if there are any opportunities we will do that if it makes sense."
As it stands, Keenan says he is comfortable with his returning core. Especially on offence, where they have only lost Ryan Powell.
"Year 2 together, that core being together, is key," Keenan said. "At the same time bringing in some new blood that brings a little more energy and a little more competition in the ranks."
While the Rush had a handful of returning players on last year's roster, this year it's the other way around.
"We obviously had some success last year, but at the same time we didn't win the whole thing," Keenan said. "We took an opportunity to get better, I think. Probably some other teams did as well, so we need to get out on the carpet and prove it that we are better because you just never know until you start playing."
Besides back-to-back draft selections Kedoh Hill and John Lafontaine, the Rush added free agent defender Bruce Murray, Bill Greer from the Orlando Titans dispersal draft and Devan Wray from a trade with Calgary.
Defender John Lintz and goalie Mitch Anders were moved to the practice roster.
Veteran defender Ryan McNish was placed on the protected player list, while U of A Golden Bears hockey rookie Jarrett Toll was put on the Rush's hold out list.
"We know down the road at some point we're going to get Jarrett Toll into a couple games and see what he can do," Keenan said.