Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Rush: a love story

The Saskatchewan Rush hopes to tie the Georgia Swarm in Game 2 of the National Lacrosse League best-of-three championship in Saskatoon tonight. That, and secure its claim to the league’s most enviable marketing hook: three-time defending champions.

Why the city can't get enough of its championship-defending lacrosse team

Tonight's game between the Saskatchewan Rush and the Georgia Swarm in Saskatoon was close to selling out as of early Friday afternoon. (Albert Couillard/CBC News)

The Saskatchewan Rush hopes to tie the Georgia Swarm in Game 2 of the National Lacrosse League best-of-three championship in Saskatoon tonight.

That, and secure its claim to the league's most enviable marketing hook: three-time defending champions.

Saskatchewan Rush transition and defence player Jeremy Thompson. (Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush/GetMyPhoto.ca)

"We're looking to come back into Saskatoon and rebound here," transition and defence player Jeremy Thompson told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning on Friday, following his team's defeat in Atlanta in Game 1 Sunday.

But even if the Rush's season ends tonight, the team will still have a strong hold on fans, says David Williams, an associate professor specializing in marketing at the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business.

"Even if they bomb tonight or lose, they've still had a great successful season," said Williams. "Even at number two, it's still close enough in the pinnacle of high performance to keep going."

Brief season, skilled playing a draw 

Williams cites several reasons for why the team has proven so popular with fans in Saskatoon.

David Williams, an associate professor specializing in marketing at the University of Saskatchwewan. (David Williams)

He points to the relatively brief season for the league compared to other sports like hockey, which allows the team to sustain its momentum.

"It's not like the Blades or basketball or hockey where the early games don't really count for much and people only get into hockey when it gets into the playoffs," he said.

(Asked to suggest a slogan for the team, he settled on, "Maybe don't blink or you'll miss something.")

It also helps that the team is strong, having won the championship for the last two years, he added.

"I think they've just come on quickly [since the team moved from Edmonton] and they've won and been successful and the games are exciting," he said.

Tonight's game nearly sold out

The Rush ranks alongside the Calgary Roughnecks, Colorado Mammoth and Buffalo Bandits as one of the top four teams in terms of ticket sales, says league commissioner Nick Sakiewicz.

"They're amongst the best in the league," he said.

Rush fans young and old show their support at a rally. (Albert Couillard/CBC News)

The team's home arena, the SaskTel centre, can seat just over 15,000 people.

Ticket sales for the Rush this season have averaged around 14,900, says coach and general manager Derek Keenan.

Tickets for tonight's game were close to selling out as of Friday morning, he said.

"I think we had about 10,000 for our first game. And we've never had less than that," said Keenan.

The coach agrees with Williams: the team is popular because it brings the goods.

"It's the best league in the world," he said. "They're the best players in the world. It's not minor-league lacrosse."

As for the series, Keenan admits he's "a little bit" bummed out the Rush won't be able to win the series on home turf (provided the team wins tonight's game, of course).

"But at the same time, we'll take it either way, whether it's home or on the road. But we have to get through [tonight]."

Not that he's worried.

"We have a nine-and-one record at home, so we like our chances to extend this."

Tonight's game kicks off at the SaskTel Centre at 7:30 p.m. CST.