Eric Fannell’s highlight-reel goal was the winner was the Halifax Thunderbirds beat the Saskatchewan Rush 12-11 in an overtime thriller on Saturday night.
It was a battle between what is expected to be the top two teams in the National Lacrosse League and it didn’t disappoint.
The Rush got on the board first with Connor McClelland scoring in transition for his first NLL goal.
Saskatchewan’s stifling defence limited the Thunderbirds’ chances in the first as their lone goal came from Clarke Petterson on a penalty shot. To add to the drama, Petterson was awarded a second penalty shot later in the quarter but was denied by the Rush’s newly minted starting goaltender Adam Shute.
The Rush’s power play then went to work. With a five-on-three advantage, Robert Church would regain the lead for Saskatchewan and Ryan Keenan would make it 3-1 to finish off the power play.
Chris Boushy got the scoring going early in the second, beating Shute 23 seconds into the frame. Holden Garlent would reply about a minute later to restore Saskatchewan’s two-goal cushion.
Keenan would find Church at the 4:32 mark to make the score 5-2 and it looked like the Rush were cruising.
Scott Campbell and Dan Lintner would exchange goals before the comeback was on for Halifax. Jake Wither and Brad Gillies would find the back of the net to narrow the lead to 6-5 at the half.
Halifax’s momentum continued into the second half with goals from Petterson and Rhys Duch to give the Thunderbirds their first lead of the game 7-6.
Jeff Cornwall would score in transition, reminiscent of his game-winner in the 2016 NLL championship final, to tie up the game.
Jeff Shattler, who is entering his final season in the NLL as he has said he is retiring, regained the lead for the Rush 8-7 on the power play at 10:20. Halifax would go back to their not-so-secret weapon as Duch scored his second to tie it up at eight.
The fourth quarter was like two heavyweight boxers going at it blow-for-blow. Both goaltenders stood on their heads, while the offences would exchange goals.
Tyson Bell would score on transition 1:05 into the final frame until Garlent once again showed his offensive prowess to tie it up.
Stephen Keogh would give Halifax the lead again 45 seconds later. The Rush’s high-powered offence would not go away as Church would pot his hat trick goal.
Rhys Duch wouldn’t be outdone, scoring his hat trick marker at 8:52. And to think Duch was a late addition to play, after the Thunderbird’s captain Cody Jamieson went down with an injury during warm-ups.
A late tripping penalty by Boushy proved to be critical as Shattler scored on the man-advantage to tie the game 11-11 and send it into overtime. Mark Matthews would pick up his sixth assist on the goal for six points in the game.
In the extra frame, the Rush had several glorious opportunities to end the game, but the Thunderbirds’ Warren Hill made some magnificent saves.
A diving Josh Currier beat Hill and it looked like the game was over. Upon further review, the officials ruled with Currier’s elbow was in the crease before the ball crossed the goal line and the goal was waved off.
It took eight and a half minutes into overtime, but Eric Fannell made a spin move to evade a defender before switching hands and putting one past Shute for the win.
Any questions about Shute being the starting goaltender for the Rush were answered as the Rush were outshot 54-50, yet still kept the game close. Shute made 42 saves and still kept Halifax to 12 goals. Hill made 39 saves for the win.
Halifax is back in action on Friday, Dec. 10, when they host the 1-0 Toronto Rock. Meanwhile, the Rush have their home opener at the Sasktel Centre on Saturday, Dec. 11, against their rivals the Calgary Roughnecks.
Shawn Slaght has been a sports reporter across the Canadian prairies for over 10 years and has experience covering everything from junior hockey to World Cup skiing to all levels of lacrosse. He is the Saskatchewan correspondent for All Lacrosse All The Time.