Jake Withers ran wild over the Saskatchewan Rush on Friday night as the Halifax Thunderbirds picked up a 17-12 win in the National Lacrosse League season opener.
Withers won 31-33 faceoffs. He scored off three of those faceoffs and tied an NLL record for most loose balls in a single game with 32. Clarke Petterson led all runners with an eight-point night including five goals and three assists.
For the Rush, it was a nightmare start as they surrendered nine goals in the first quarter alone. Frank Scigliano and Laine Hruska both saw time in the net but both goaltenders struggled at times during this game as they faced 66 shots.
Saskatchewan’s offense had its chance with 46 shots but credit goes to Warren Hill, who stood tall in Halifax’s goal. Special teams-wise, the Rush were successful on the man-advantage, going three-for-seven on the power play and had a pair of shorthanded goals.
Jake Withers takes over the game
It was not the start the Rush were hoping for. Ryan Benesch opened the scoring 3:22 seconds into the game.
Benesch, Petterson and Dawson Theede scored in the span of 42 seconds as the Thunderbirds took a 4-0 lead.
Saskatchewan finally got on the board on the power play at 6:16 with Zach Manns scoring. He rifled a long-distance shot for his first goal as a member of the Rush.
The sledding didn’t get any easier for the Rush. Petterson scored a pair and Withers scored off the draw in less than a minute to extend Halifax’s lead 7-1.
Robert Church got on the board on the power play with 1:50 left to play to get Saskatchewan back within five. Six seconds later Withers scored off the draw again and Bo Bowhunter 28 seconds after that. At that point, Saskatchewan made the goaltending change and put Hruska in in place of Scigliano.
Patrick Dodds scored his first as a member of the Rush with 49 seconds left in the quarter. And then, a bizarre goal by Church with 30 seconds on the clock on the power play. Church missed the quick stick pass but the ball bounced off his head and went in passed Hill.
However, Halifax held a 9-4 lead over the Saskatchewan Rush at the first break.
Rush begin to settle down
Saskatchewan got some steady goaltender from Hruska late in the first quarter and into the second quarter to give his team a chance.
Both teams went scoreless until the 7:24 mark of the second. Austin Shanks took a feed from Benesch to put Halifax into the double digits.
Saskatchewan replied by getting their transition game going. Manitoba product Jerrett Smith broke free off a pass from Bobby Kidd III to make it 10-5.
Seven seconds later, Withers won the draw rumbled down the floor and scored his hat trick goal as Halifax led 11-5 at the half.
Halifax continues to dominate
Benesch scored his hat trick goal 3:10 into the third quarter.
With Connor McClelland in the box for handing the stick, Isaac Ngyou took a pass from Ryan Barnable and scored shorthanded for his first ever NLL goal.
The celebration was short-lived as Theede scored a power play marker six second later to make it 13-6.
Twenty seconds after that, Petterson scored as Halifax had a commanding 14-6 lead heading into the final quarter.
Wheels fall off for Saskatchewan
Ngyou struck again 54 seconds into the fourth quarter as he took a pass from Keegan Bell on transition to get the Rush within seven.
Any change of a comeback was snuffed out as Halifax scored three times in a 46 seconds as the Rush pulled Hruska and went back to Scigliano.
First it was Petterson scoring goal number five at 13:48. Cody Jamieson scored 22 seconds later for his 900th career goal. Cole Kirst would then score at 13:02 for his first career NLL goal.
Saskatchewan would score a run of five goals in the final 10:18. Church got the scoring started to make it 17-8.
Adam Jay would then find Manns coming out of the gate on transition at 7:52. It would also be Manns 100th career point. Less than two minutes later, captain Ryan Keenan found the back of the net to pull the Rush within seven. Mike Messenger got an assist on the goal for his 100th career point.
Once again, Manns was found coming out of the gate on transition. This time it was Holden Garlent that found him down the floor.
Barnable rounded out the scoring with 56 seconds left in the game with a early candidate for goal of the year. With Petterson hauling him down on a breakaway, Barnable fell backwards into the crease but still got a shot off that beat Hill. Upon review, it was called a good goal was the ball crossed the goal line before Barnable landed in to crease.
Even with the goal, the final score was 17-12 for Halifax over the Saskatchewan Rush.
Clarke Petterson, 5g 3a
Austin Shanks, 1g 6a
Ryan Benesch, 3g 2a
Dawson Theede, 2g 3a
Zach Manns, 3g 3a
Robert Church, 3g 2a
Ryan Keenan, 1g 2a