In the Saskatchewan Rush‘s first appearance at SaskTel Centre since the 2017 Champions Cup, the Rush clobbered the Georgia Swarm 24-9. But Rush Head Coach and General Manager Derek Keenan was quick to point out that their American rivals, who beat them in the 2017 National Lacrosse League (NLL) finals, are still in a tryout phase.
“They obviously didn’t have their A-line out tonight, especially on defense. They’re trying to get some guys through, still looking at people, and we’re in a different situation because it was our last preseason game,” Keenan said after the win.
The Rush had 10 players share duties on offense, plus all five goalies rotated in net as Saskatchewan evaluated their talent for a final time in a game situation.
“We played really well. I mean I thought we ran the floor really well, I thought we were pretty tenacious defensively. All the goalies played well, that’s not going to make it easy for me. And some of the young guys played real well,” Keenan added.
One of those “young guys” was rookie Anthony Hallgord. The former junior A SWAT player was drafted 58th overall and got his first taste of the big leagues on home soil on Nov. 18.
“Everyone’s bigger, faster, stronger and the biggest thing I found was everyone’s smarter,” said the 21-year-old, who still lives with his parents in Warman, Sask.
“My first carry with the ball was a little bit shaky. I think I probably should have pressed the ball. We had numbers but I just pulled it out and waited for the offense to come out so a little bit of nerves kicked in there.”
“He hasn’t played at a high level of even junior A lacrosse, it’s a big, difficult transition for him, but I thought he played well,” Keenan said about Hallborg’s play.
Forward Ryan Keenan, who along with Mark Matthews led the Rush with seven points, was impressed by Hallborg’s composure.
“You know, testament to him for coming in and playing really well. Probably in front of friends and family and fighting off the nerves,” said Keenan, who was a rookie in the NLL last year.
“No words can explain what the nerves were like before the game. They were really high but they calmed down a little bit after I got a couple of hits in, played a couple shifts on defense,” Hallborg noted.
Now comes the challenging part for Keenan. The head coach, who shares general manager duties, needs to trim the roster from 29 to 20 players by the NLL deadline on Friday.
He plans on keeping three goalies, but one will be reserved for the practice squad, “It’s never easy to say goodbye to kids who work that hard, and really come, took it serious, took their fitness level serious. I thought all our goalies were really good so, tough decisions there.”
The Rush open their regular season in Toronto against the Rock on Dec. 16.