Death, taxes and Rhys Duch scoring 30-plus per season in the NLL were the only guarantees in life until last year. Vancouver’s franchise leader in goals (370) assists (523) and points (893) didn’t look like himself.
“Frustrations all around, both personally and how the season went,” Duch reflects. “Probably playing on one foot for the whole season really and the repercussions that comes out of that. You get out of game shape; you’re not thinking about the game, you’re trying to manage your injury so it affects the way you play the game.”
13th all-time in NLL points, Duch had never scored less than 33 goals or 80 points in his first 9 campaigns. He had just 19 goals and 65 points in 2018, playing in all 18 games on a bad Achilles. Just two years removed from a career best 111 point season – the Victoria native is confident 2018 will be just a blip in one of the most consistent careers the NLL has even seen.
“I might not have managed it properly [the injury] and knew how to manage it because I was at the point in my career when you can’t just stop I thought in my mind. I’d never had something that I couldn’t just play through and get over. If I’m healthy I don’t know why I can’t be one of the best players on the floor on any given night. It’s just a matter of getting healthy and staying healthy.”
“The function [in the foot] is at a point to where it hasn’t been since the injury occurred 2 years ago,” Duch states with enthusiasm.
One of the keys to a bounce back season for Duch will be finding chemistry and his role alongside potential new faces on his side of the offence. There are no less than 10 offensive righties at training camp battling for likely 4 spots.
Duch’s best season statistically came in 2016 alongside visionary feeder Garrett Billings and the gritty pinball Joel McCready. Billings is now in San Diego, but head coach Chris Gill has singled out McCready as a righty threat he is looking forward to working with.
A former Vancouver staffer thought Duch’s best season was his 42 goal, 48 assist 2011 alongside a hefty Luke Wiles and feisty Craig Conn.
“Wiles was a one-on-one guy that I learned a lot from. You learn to play off a guy like that because if he’s drawing doubles then it gets you open. Jeff Zywicki, he was one of the best finishers around the net I’ve ever seen and that’s how I adapted my outside game because I’m not going to be the one attacking the crease when he’s down there scoring 40 goals a year. It’s a matter of being able to adapt to the players around you.”
Chris Gill’s new look offense promises to feature new faces and an equal billing for the entire unit.
“Gilly plays a full team offense and that’s going to be real suitable for having that many guys at camp and finding groups that can play together as opposed to just two here and there,” said Duch. “Obviously pairings are going to be important when it comes down to important times in a game. You want to be able to tap two guys on the shoulder and say ‘go get us one.’”
The 32 year-old that fans call “Clutch Duch” is positive and motivated that he can still be that guy.
As much as the athleticism and pace of the game today is dictated by the youthful influx of NCAA athletes – it’s the vets that have done some special things to the NLL record books. Future hall of famer Dan Dawson scored 40 in his 15th season. Josh Sanderson set a league record for assists (83) at 37, and then promptly retired at 38. And maybe the GOAT – John Grant Jr. set a then league record for points (116) at 37, and went on to play another 5 years.
“As your body slows down on you, your mind needs to take over,” said Duch. “As you become more experienced you understand the game and what it takes to be successful on a mental level and when your physical breaks down a little bit, your IQ can take over. That’s what it was for those guys.”
Only 9 players have scored 1000 points in the National Lacrosse League. Duch needs 107 more to enter the VIP section. He eclipsed the century mark in both 2015 and 2016 and maybe a healthy start with a revamped team will help to get him there.
“It’s awesome. It’s a positive change. It’s going to be nice to be playing out of the big arena. We’re part of a huge organization now and obviously the Aquilini family and the Canucks know how to get things done. It’s going to be exciting once we get going.”