The Halifax Thunderbirds kick off their 2023-24 campaign in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Centre on Friday night when they welcome the Saskatchewan Rush to The Nest. Opening face-off is slated for 8:00 p.m. AT.
Head to Head
The Thunderbirds have gone up against the Rush on three occasions since moving to the Maritimes in 2019. Saskatchewan took the first meeting in overtime in 2020 in an instant classic. Halifax got the win back a season later with an overtime victory of their own at Scotiabank Centre. Heading on the road to SaskTel Centre last year, the Birds picked up a crucial road win at the tail end of the 2022-23 campaign.
This season, the two Canadian rivals will face off twice.
Scouting the Thunderbirds
Halifax returns a majority of the offence that finished second-best in the league with 238 goals for last year.
But for the season opener, they will be without two key contributors in Randy Staats and captain Cody Jamieson, who both open the year on the PUP List. That will give more opportunities to the other talents on the Halifax offence. Clarke Petterson, Austin Shanks, and Ryan Benesch will be leaned on to lead the unit. Petterson had his best season to date in 2023, setting career highs in goals, assists, and points. Benesch is one of the best scorers in NLL history and a future Hall of Famer, and Shanks notched over four points per game last season when he was in the lineup.
On the defensive side of the ball, Graeme Hossack is coming off setting a career-best in caused turnovers with 49 takeaways while Jake Withers won a career-high 360 face-offs and scooped up 238 loose balls with 15 CTOs. Look for Ryan Terefenko to take another step in his development. The American transition ace was a standout in training camp after posting seven goals, 21 points, 186 loose balls, and 14 caused turnovers in 2023.
Warren Hill will get the nod in net for the opener. The Halifax starter finished last year with a 9-7 record along with an 11.03 goals-against average and a .770 save percentage.
Scouting the Rush
The biggest omission when you look at this year’s edition of the Rush will be longtime star Mark Matthews. The lefty was moved to Toronto during the off-season. That leaves Rober Church and Ryan Keenan to lead this unit. Church has been a consistent threat over his NLL career, and he finished tops among Rush forwards in scoring with 51 goals and 104 points last season. Keenan finished third on the team with 72 points and will be leaned on heavily to pick up the production on the left side of the floor for Saskatchewan.
Zach Manns, who was picked up in the Matthews deal, will also see the biggest workload of his young career. Clark Walter is another exciting prospect who had a breakout at the tail end of last season.
The Rush have seen the losses of Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, and Ryan Dilks over the last two years via free agency. But they have a young and promising unit that’s headlined by Mike Messenger. Bobby Kidd III, Jake Boudreau, and Ryan Barnable are also high draft picks who all like to push transition out of their own end.
One of the Rush’s biggest off-season acquisitions, Frank Scigliano, will be between the pipes. With the San Diego Seals last year, he held a 10.71 GAA and a .776 SV% with a 10-2 record.