Training camp for the Saskatchewan Rush opens on Friday (Nov.3) and the team will be bringing 30 players to Oakville. The first weekend will not feature any exhibition games, just fitness testing and practices from November 3-4th.
Let’s start with the goalies. This position is by far the most set of the three. GM Derek Keenan has made it clear that he brought in Frank Scigliano to be the club’s starter, but that doesn’t mean local hero Laine Hruska can’t push him for playing time. Very rarely do you see a goaltender in the NLL give you a complete 15-18 games, so having a reliable backup will be key this season. As for Saskatchewan’s second round pick in 2023, Thomas Kiazyk, he still has two years of junior lacrosse eligibility left, so the season ahead will likely be one of learning the ins and outs of the league, while gaining that valuable experience at a young age.
Moving along to the defenders, things get a little more interesting here. Jeremy Tallevi will be looking to find replacements for Ryan Dilks, Kyle Rubisch and Matt Beers, so the offseason brought on some fresh faces, but the core of this group is still returnees who will need to elevate their game.
For the righty’s, Mike Messenger is back on a one-year deal and will be relied upon to physically punish opposing teams star players, while continuing to stay competitive at the faceoff dot. Bobby Kidd III, Jerrett Smith and Adam Jay will all be elevated to larger roles moving forward, which the team hopes can push the pace a little more in transition, while adapt to the faster paced offences that NLL teams are putting on the floor. Mike Mallory returns for his third season in green and although he won’t wow you with flashy numbers, his reliability has helped him stick around the league in various roles.
Holden Garlent remains a key left hander out the back gate as his experience along with the likes of Connor McClelland will be needed as a 1-2 punch when covering the games top forwards. Jake Boudreau and Ryan Barnable will be heading into their sophomore seasons. Generally, you’d see a bit of a slump in 2nd year defenders when given a bigger role, but with the speed and confidence these two play at, I think a bit more freedom to run in transition will help them blossom into elite defenceman.
The spots for defenders 10-13 are wide open. You have Isaac Ngyou, Jeremy Searle and Wyatt Haux who all spent time with the Rush last season, but newcomers Nick Preston, Sam Marshall, Jamison Dilks and Rylee McKinnon are going to push for roster spots come December. Ngyou dressed in four games last season recording nine loose balls, while Searle appeared in three, grabbing five loose balls and causing three turnovers. Haux has the size and strength at 6'4 200+ pounds, and after another summer of defending Mike Triolo and Levi Anderson in Alberta, could he push for the active roster in a full-time spot? Then you have Nick Preston who has had a ton of success out west in the WLA, Marshall was a star with the Sask SWAT, Dilks was acquired in the Lintner trade and McKinnon was a part of the Whitby Warriors teams that tore up the Junior A circuit from 2011-2013.
On offence, the team has a new boss in Victoria legend Bruce Alexander leading the charge. From a managers perspective, major changes is the understatement of the year when it came to re-shaping this group as the team moved on from Mark Matthews, Dan Lintner, Rhys Duch, Austin Madronic and Marty Dinsdale.
With only three forwards returning from last season, an offence that needed to go into the blender is ready to be plated. Returning for his 10th season is Robert Church who had 51 goals last season. He’s the only right-handed forward from the Rush’s 2022/23 roster. Joining him on that side now is Patrick Dodds, who has 138 points in 36 NLL games, Nathaniel Kozevnikov who won an NLL Championship with Buffalo last season, Mike Triolo, who had 24 points in eight games with Panther City a couple years ago and Keegan Bell, who has had a ton of success in the Arena Lacrosse League, but hasn’t yet been able to translate that to the pro game.
On the left side, Ryan Keenan and Clark Walter will lead the way being the two Rush veterans, but the addition of Zach Manns has been the talk of the town. Manns has consistently been around a 2.5 points per game type of player in a depth role on Toronto, had a breakout summer putting up 89 points with the Nanaimo Timbermen. The fourth left spot is the battle to watch this November. Cam Wengreniuk, Jake Bowen, and Gabe Procyk will battle for that final forward spot. Wengreniuk was acquired with Dodds in the Matt Beers trade and is coming off his rookie season in the league where he had four goals in six games. Bowen was selected 25th overall by the Rush in 2023, after a stellar junior career with the Edmonton Miners and a season of senior lacrosse in Langley under his belt. Procyk was a 5th round pick in 2022, who led U-Mass Amherst with 37 points during the 2023 NCAA season. Wengreniuk has the experience and maturity, Bowen has the size and Procyk has the versatility of being able to come out both gates, so the battle is certainly intriguing.
Looking ahead, the first couple of days training camp are generally ones geared towards fitness testing and getting back in the swing of things with upbeat practices, so I try not to put too much stock into what I see on day one and two. But once we get to the second weekend on November 10th and 11th, that’s when the separation starts to happen when the practices ramp up, and the first exhibition game takes place against the Rock on Saturday night.
The third weekend of camp will be in Saskatoon on the 17th and 18th, with details of that to be released soon. To close out the month, the Rush will take on the Roughnecks on November 25th in Moose Jaw.
Tickets to that game can be found here.