July 10, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
The final Toronto Rush home game of the season played out in a manner almost indistinguishable from Toronto’s preview two victories over the Montreal Royal. Toronto played even with Montreal, with both teams forcing a fair number of turnovers, before pulling away in the second half to win the game 28-24. Asked if this game was different from Toronto’s other victories over Montreal this season, coach Sachin Raina laughed, “no, not really.”
There’s no other way for the Rush to start a game than to take a 2-0 lead. Following an easy first break goal, newcomer Justin Foord stepped in front of a risky deep shot to intercept the pass and allow Toronto another goal. The Rush proved that 2-0 was the only lead they were willing to take; the third point of the game saw multiple blocks from rookie Nick Dacquisto, including one monster layout, but Isaiah Masek-Kelly and Jonathan Edwards threw backhand shots too far into the endzone for Rush cutters to catch up.
Up 2-1, the Rush offence took the field with a newly rejuvenated Ben Oort – fresh off of a return to health for his right thumb and a victory at the European tournament Windmill with his club team Grut – back in his natural spot with the offence. Another rotation note: this was the first game of Thomson McKnight’s career with the Toronto Rush that he’s missed due to injury. Adrian Yearwood filled in as the center handler. Andrew Carroll actually handled for the O-Line’s first point, cutting horizontally across the backfield repeatedly while moving the disc forward, before finding Cam Harris with a flick to score a clean hold.
After a clean Montreal hold, Yearwood and Harris miscommunicated on the angle of an under, and Montreal’s defence claimed the disc only a few yards from Toronto’s endzone.
“Adrian [Yearwood] filled in for Thomson [McKnight] as the center handler, and there were a couple different pages, miscommunications, which is bound to happen when you take Thomson out for the first time in 60 games,” said Raina.
An easy conversion gave Montreal the score, and Toronto quickly threw another turnover on the ensuing point. Hugh Knapp, pushed to the D-Line because coach Raina wanted to spread the handler wealth between both lines, quickly atoned for his mistake by poaching into the endzone and intercepting Montreal’s shot. Jeff Lindquist floated a disc ahead of Masek-Kelly for the score to push Toronto ahead 4-3.
Both teams settled into free and easy comfort, as offences scored quickly and cleanly. Nate Hirst, especially, caused damage for Toronto as he broke free repeatedly in the endzone for easy passes from Ben Burelle and Carroll. Carroll continued his stellar play, tossing a floating backhand huck to Oort, who tracked it perfectly for the goal. Then Carroll ran every other down the field and found Oort for another goal.
The incredible efficiency of both offences meant that by the time the first quarter ran out, the score was tied at 8-8, without a turnover since the first few points. Though the second quarter initially seemed smooth for Toronto, as Burelle worked the disc all the way down the field with heady cuts, a turnover in the endzone allowed Montreal to call a timeout and punch in a break to take the lead 9-8.
Toronto converted on their next offensive possession after a Connor Armstrong run-through D, and Toronto’s own defence scored a break to claim the lead 10-9. Jonathan Edwards caught an easy interception in his own endzone, and then after a few more turnovers from both sides, caught an incredible leaping one-hander overthrown by fellow veteran Gord Harrison.
After a clean Montreal hold, Yearwood made another mental error as he threw an elevator pass into double coverage on a reset. Montreal scored another easy break to push ahead 11-10. After a Rush flip-pass to the endzone sailed out of bounds, Montreal pushed downfield and lofted an OI flick over the swiping hands of Marijo Zlatic to claw ahead by two.
Ben Burelle delivered to equalize for Toronto. He threw a perfect backhand to lead Nathan Hirst away from his defender, and then Toronto’s defence forced a throwaway on a difficult swing pass. Coach Raina called a timeout to put the offence on the field, and Burelle out-paced his defender in a sprint to the far cone for the goal. Montreal added one more before halftime, and Toronto couldn’t equalize as a Cam Harris in-field greatest didn’t take place before the buzzer expired. Montreal took a 13-12 lead into the second half.
Toronto bent but didn’t break to start the third quarter, as the Royal marched all the way down the field before Iain MacKenzie handblocked a shot on Toronto’s own goal-line to take possession. After a pair of unforced turnovers from both sides, MacKenzie caught a scoober and threw an easy assist to Dacquisto to tie the game again.
The two teams traded points throughout the third quarter, as Montreal’s one-goal lead carried deep into the fourth, 20-19. Both teams fell in love with hucks, which were relatively unstoppable in the third frame. Cam Harris threw one particularly on-the-money backhand to Ben Burelle, who outraced not only his defender, but also teammate speedster Andrew Carroll en route to the goal. Carroll provided an impressive series of his own as he threw a disc out of bounds, raced back to block a Montreal huck, and then outwitted a pair of Montreal defenders to catch a Masek-Kelly huck. Jonathan Edwards ended the quarter with the biggest bang of all, leaping above a pack of Montreal defenders to catch a one-handed goal to give Toronto the one-point lead, 21-20.
Cam Harris opened the final quarter with a layout block – perhaps slightly superfluous – to reclaim the disc for the offence, before catching a goal. The fiery Harris showed some passion, erupting with a primal scream after the catch, to help shake Toronto into a higher gear. The defence responded, notching a break to push the lead to 23-20.
“That's when the guys put the foot on the gas. [The] O-Line held, and [the] D-Line went out and said time to remind you guys who's boss,” said Raina of Toronto’s start to the fourth quarter.
Following an offensive hold for Montreal, Toronto converted on a marathon offensive point, featuring a pair of turnovers, with a classic Harris to Carroll connection. Harris aired out a three-quarter field backhand, and Carroll jogged onto the goal, raising his arms after the catch in glee, a smile spread widely across his face.
The next offensive point for Toronto saw Jay Boychuk sneak into a tight space in the endzone to catch a little toss from Harris. Jonathan Edwards again delivered on defence, stealing inside position on a cross-field swing pass and intercepting the toss for a block. He caught a blading flick from Dacquisto give himself the bookends and Toronto the 26-22 lead. They’d win by the same margin, 28-24.
Toronto’s final home game was a success in several regards. A few players returned to the field healthy, with Jay Boychuk and Ben Oort combining for 6 goals. Justin Foord was incredible anchoring the second D-Line in his first game with the Rush in 2018. Finally, Hugh Knapp moved to the D-Line, where his impeccable handling provided an incredible counterweight to Jason Huynh’s talents.
“They didn't seem like it was the first time they had played together, even though it was,” said Raina of the two young handlers. “They can both move the disc quickly, and they're such a good contrast, where [Huynh] can move the disc, and is left-handed, and has his own shape on breaks. [Knapp], being right-handed, can be that center handler, where he can just move the disc, spray it all over the disc, he can shoot, put touch on the throws for a little break. It's a nice little two-headed monster for defences to deal with.”
Toronto’s 28-24 win brought their record to 12-1, best in the AUDL. Montreal has been one of the only divisional teams that’s given Toronto trouble in the past, even winning in Toronto in 2017, and the Rush are pleased to have eliminated Montreal from playoff contention. More than anything, the Rush were happy just to have escaped the game with as few injuries as possible.