EDMONTON - With the first-overall selection in the 2012 NLL draft on Monday, the Edmonton Rush took size, speed and skill in a combination unlike anything seen in the past 15 years.
But the most exciting thing about six-foot-four, 230-pound Mark Matthews is not only the fact that he represents the first high-calibre offensive playmaker to join the Rush out of the gates, rather than on the downswing of his career.
Instead, it’s the tradition of winning that Matthews has already instilled in his young career.
A well-decorated university field lacrosse All-American with the Denver Pioneers, Matthews is coming off of back-to-back Minto Cup championships to round out his junior career.
After taking it all with Coquitlam in 2010, Matthews repeated the feat last summer with the Whitby Warriors — a team that shares its head coach, Derek Keenan, with the Rush.
“A lot of people have been joking about that for a couple years, my buddies who play in Colorado and stuff, that winning seems to follow me and hopefully it keeps up and we can keep it rolling,” said Matthews, who ended his four-year stint at Denver by setting a school record 216 points and 155 goals.
But it’s his ability to lead a team to victory in cup games with the national championship on the line that sets him apart.
“The fans have never had someone who’s kind of been their No. 1 guy,” said Matthews, who will join a franchise that has yet to see his offensive equal. “Hopefully I can help the fans out and kind of, along with the other guys, get a playoff game out there for them.”
He is prepared to help his team on the floor as much as he is with promoting the league off of it.
“Hopefully we’ll get the fanbase bigger and rival the NHL pretty soon,” Matthews said, tongue-in-cheek.
A self-admitted “big” hockey fan, the native of Oshawa grew up cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs and wouldn’t be giving those allegiances up, regardless of where he was drafted.
Matthews said he had known of Keenan’s intentions for the past week or so. Right around the time the Rush came out with a press release more than hinting he would be taken No. 1.
“It was kind of up in the air for a while there and then it became public,” Matthews said. “It was still nice to have your name called.”
Compared to a single, third-round selection in last year’s draft, which turned into local product Jesse Fehr, 2012 proved a goldmine of talent.
“It went well,” Keenan said, adding it was good to see Matthews don the No. 42 Silver and Black. “It was a really important moment for our franchise. He’s going to be a really big part as we move forward.”
Not to mention an immediate one.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of time in the press box for Mr. Matthews,” Keenan laughed.
While nothing can fix the 9-5 loss at the hands of the Rochester Knighthawks in the Rush’s first-ever Champions Cup appearance in the spring, Monday’s results took some of the bad taste away.
“When you get a chance to win a championship and you don’t, the goal never changes,” Keenan said. “But then you move forward and I think we have a better team this year.
“We just got better with more youth and talent.”