Rock in for biggest test of the year against defending champion Rush

It’s not easy being at the top, just ask the Saskatchewan Rush. They’ve been the class of the National Lacrosse League for the last half-decade and have captured three championships in the past four years.

Heading into this weeks matchup, however, it’s the Rush – and the rest of the league – who are chasing down the Toronto Rock.

Everything has gone right for the Rock to open the season. On top of wins against the Buffalo Bandits and Georgia Swarm, they also have a pair of nail-biting victories over the Philadelphia Wings – the first in overtime and the second coming after a seven-goal fourth quarter powered them to a win.

As for the Rush, it’s been an interesting start to the year. While they have three wins so far, Saskatchewan was handed a loss in its first game of the campaign against New England Black Wolves and dropped last weekends matchup with the Swarm. They started last season 8-1 and will be looking to go on a run to take hold of the West Division.

These two teams always play well against one another. They most famously matched up in the 2015 Champions Cup Final, with the Rush sweeping the series to capture their first championship of this current run.

They met just once last season, and Saskatchewan once again bested Toronto by a 17-9 score.

The Rock will be hoping that the newly named Scotiabank Arena will give them more luck in this meeting – which is the lone matchup between the Canadian rivals in 2019.

Players to watch

Toronto

Schreiber, Hellyer, Jones

The Big Three are being lumped together for the rest of the year. They impact every game and are the driving force of the offence. Schreiber and Hellyer finished with six points apiece last weekend against Philadelphia. Jones had five points of his own. They’ll be looking to carry that success into their biggest game of the season to date.

Dan Lintner

Teams are so busy worrying about Schreiber and Hellyer on the right side that they forget about Lintner. He’s made them pay for that, posting five goals and eight points in the past two games. As the man who is relied upon to finish on the crease, Lintner will have a couple of quality looks if the Rock can get the Rush’s defence moving.

Challen Rogers

The Rock need to play fast and establish their transition game early to give themselves a chance to beat the Rush. Rogers will be leaned on heavily to push the ball up and create some offensive chances. He had one assist against Philadelphia last weekend and will more than likely find the back of the net if the Rush give him any time to breathe.

Kieran McArdle

The lefty has been getting better and gaining more confidence with every passing game. He only managed one assist last weekend. A bounce-back should be in the cards for McArdle.

Saskatchewan

Mark Matthews

The hulking forward is one of the best players in the league and the reigning NLL Most Valuable Player. He’s averaging six points a game and is a matchup nightmare for any defence. He’s got a cannon of a shot and is equally equipped to distribute if his shot isn’t there.

Ben McIntosh

McIntosh sits second on the Rush in scoring with 28 points in five games. He also leads the team with 15 goals, so watch for him and Matthews to be the top threats. He does a great job of getting inside and scoring around the crease.

Robert Church

Teams have a hard time focusing on just Matthews with the right-handed players that the Rush have. Church had an incredible 2018 campaign in his own right, finishing as a runner up for the league MVP. He missed one game this year with a wrist injury but has been dynamite in the other four games, scoring 20 points.

Jeff Shattler

The NLL veteran is still making defences look silly with regularity. He’s a perfect player to compliment Matthews on the lefty side of the floor. He’s got 10 goals and 23 points on the campaign. The Rock have seen their fair share of Shattler over the years. He always seems to have big games in Toronto, with every goal made more memorable by his jump-off-the-boards celebration.

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