The deadliest lacrosse game ever

Since it’s the off-season, there isn’t an awful lot happening in the National Lacrosse League these days. Sure, two teams have moved including the team that won the Championship just a couple of months ago. This would be huge in any other sport but in the NLL, that’s just a little unusual. So here’s a lacrosse story, but it’s not exactly a new one. In fact, it’s over 250 years old.

The state of Michigan is divided into two pieces: the Lower Peninsula (the “mitten”) and the Upper Peninsula. The two meet at the very top of the mitten at the Straits of Mackinac*, where you’ll find the impressive mile-and-a-half long Mackinac Bridge. At the south end of the bridge is the amusingly-named Village of Mackinaw City (population 806) and within that lies Fort Michilimackinac**.

*Note that whether it’s spelled “Mackinac” (like the straits, the bridge, or the island) or “Mackinaw” (like the city), it’s always pronounced MACK-in-aw.
**It looks like a mouthful but it’s not that hard to pronounce: MISH-ill-uh-MACK-in-aw.

Built by the French in the early 1700’s, the Fort was as much a trading post as a military fort. Fur traders would come from as far away as Montreal, and hundreds of Native Americans lived at or near the Fort as well. The French and Indian War (the North American part of the Seven Years’ War) began in 1754, when the French and Natives combined forces to battle the British and Americans. Most of the fighting occurred much further east in New York and Pennsylvania but once the North American part of the war ended in 1761, the French abandoned Fort Michilimackinac and the British took over.

But the British rule didn’t sit well with the local Native population, the Obijwe. Indeed, many Native communities throughout the area were unhappy with the British. (Aside: Even today, they don’t seem to get along, as the British have consistently refused to honour the passports of the Haudenosaunee Nation for lacrosse tournaments in the UK. But that’s another story.) The Natives decided to band together and rise up against their oppressors. This rebellion became known as Pontiac’s War, named after the chief of the Odawa tribe and namesake of both the city of Pontiac, Michigan as well as the GM brand of cars. The way that the Ojibwe chose to rebel was interesting and unique, and here’s where lacrosse enters the picture.

Old school

This picture of some very old lacrosse equipment (including a horsehide ball stuffed with feathers) was taken by me, though not at Fort Michilimackinac. It was actually taken at Fort William in Thunder Bay, Ontario during the summer of 2012.

On June 2, 1763, the Ojibwes held a game of baaga’adowe*, a forerunner to modern (field) lacrosse, in front of Fort Michilimackinac. This is something they’d do from time to time, and it always brought out a crowd of spectators from the Fort. As usual, the soldiers left their weapons inside and the gates of the Fort open while watching the game. On this hot June day, none of the British soldiers thought anything was odd about the fact that all of the Native women, who were also watching the game, were sitting near the gate of the Fort wrapped up in thick blankets.

* – An Ojibwe word meaning “to hit”. Note that Wikipedia‘s translation of “bump hips” is incorrect – that’s the translation of the Onondaga word for lacrosse. Thanks to Ryan Zunner for helping me get this right!

It went on for a while until the ball was thrown through the open gate of the Fort, and at that point the game changed dramatically. As the players ran into the Fort after the ball, the Native women pulled out the guns, knives, and tomahawks they had been hiding under their blankets. The players dropped their sticks and grabbed the weapons. There are lacrosse fights, and then there are lacrosse fights. Geoff Snider and Tim O’Brien had nothing on these guys, and when it was over, most of the British soldiers were dead (though not the French-Canadians who were still there). The Ojibwe took over control of Fort Michilimackinac and held control for a year.

The Ojibwe really had no interest in the Fort itself, they just wanted the British out and they staged the deadliest game of lacrosse ever played to do it. A year later the British reclaimed the Fort with no bloodshed, promising more gifts to the Ojibwe in exchange. They would later combine forces against their common enemy, the brand new United States of America.

"An Indian Ball-Play" by George Catlin


References

Stokes, Keith. (2015) Colonial Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from http://www.mightymac.org/michilimackinac.htm

Edwards, Lissa. (2010) Deadly Lacrosse Game in Mackinac Straits at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763. Retrieved from http://mynorth.com/2010/05/deadly-lacrosse-game-in-mackinac-straits-at-fort-michilimackinac-in-1763/

Ojibwa. (2011) Lacrosse at Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/947

Wikipedia. (2015) Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Michilimackinac

NLL musical selections

Many teams play music in the dressing room to get ready for games, and I imagine every team makes different choices.

Here are the favourite musical selections for each NLL team in 2015.

Buffalo Bandits

Tavares

 

Calgary Roughnecks

Superman

 

Colorado Mammoth

Mr. Jones

 

Edmonton Rush

We Are The Champions

 

Minnesota Swarm

Georgia On My Mind

 

New England Black Wolves

Casino

 

Rochester Knighthawks

Jammer

 

Toronto Rock

Mr. Crowley

 

Vancouver Stealth

Pass The Dutchie

Top 5 good things about the NLL season being over

I love the NLL season. But there are some advantages now that it’s over:

1. I focus so much on lacrosse during the winter that I don’t have time to pay much attention to hockey. Now that lacrosse is over, I can get back to cheering on my beloved Maple Leafs!

Waiting for the Leafs game to start

2. On Saturday nights, instead of watching lacrosse games in BC and Alberta that don’t start until 10 pm, I can stay out and party until 3! Or go to bed at 10:30, which is far more likely. #OldGuyProblems

3. I can actually do real work while at work rather than watching replays of NLL games and writing blog posts while sending emails containing lots of computer-y buzzwords and hoping they make sense. “What did I do this week? I converted the RDBMS’s transactional compilation module using the latest encrypted LDAP SMTP synergistic managed portal.”

4. I can continue to work on my PhD dissertation in anthropology, entitled “Are sports fans more likely to cheer for teams whose names do not end in ‘s’?”

5. After five months of playing hard, it will be nice for the players to be able to relax instead of playing lacrosse all the time. Enjoy a few months of R&R boys, and you can dig your lacrosse sticks out of the closet around November for training camp.

 

Only 7 months until NLL season begins!

My team lost the Championship. And I’m OK with that.

I’ve been a Toronto Rock fan since 2001, and have watched them win Championships live (2003, 2005, 2011) and on TV (2002), and have also watched them lose Championships live (2001) and on TV (2010 and now 2015). Obviously I’m disappointed in the outcome of the series, but part of me is glad the Rush won.

As much as I’d love to have seen the Rock win the Championship in memory of Terry Sanderson, I’m glad the Rush were able to win in memory of Wendy Keenan. The fact that both of these teams could have suffered such a devastating loss just before the season started and still make the finals speaks volumes to the feeling of family among them. And that Edmonton family was dealt another difficult blow when Aaron Bold’s girlfriend Michelle Fines was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of playing the season for Wendy, now they were playing for both Wendy and Michelle.

Aaron BoldThe team obviously has a ton of talented players and one of the best coaches in the league, so their success is not a big surprise. But doesn’t it seem that the Rush players were playing with just a little extra spark or something, particularly in Game 2 of the Finals? It’s probably the 20:20 hindsight talking, and if I knew nothing about their off-floor hardships I might not have noticed anything. But perhaps that extra motivation, plus the sound of 12,000+ Rush fans, was just enough to power the Rush to the Championship.

There’s also the fact that in sports, many teams have periods where they are strong contenders and periods where they’re not. The Oilers and Islanders were great in the 80’s and won several Cups each, but ended up near the bottom of the league later on. Even the Leafs went to the conference semifinals five out of six straight years (and the conference finals twice) in the early 2000’s, but have been terrible ever since. I remember the years when the Ottawa Senators were great and made it to the Stanley Cup finals once, but never won a Cup. Their window closed before they could achieve that goal. The Rush haven’t just been a very good team over the past two seasons, they have been amazing, having put together a 29-7 regular season record. But I’m sure the players will tell you that being the best team in the regular season means nothing if you don’t win the Championship. I’m glad they were able to achieve the ultimate success in the NLL before their window closed – not that that closure is imminent. This team could be very good for many years to come.

And I’m glad they were able to win it at home. Hopefully those 12,000+ fans can be an inspiration to Rush owner Bruce Urban. Urban said only a couple of weeks ago that it’s not unlikely that the Rush will be moving during the off-season because he couldn’t get a new arena deal in Edmonton. Maybe a bunch of the fans who showed up to that game will want to come back next year and watch this team defend its Championship. Maybe the turnout at Game 2 will be enough to prove to Urban and the city and the Oilers (who own Rexall Place) that pro lacrosse can work in Edmonton, and a deal can get worked out so the Rush don’t have to move.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still sad that my team lost. And I don’t want to take anything away from the Rock, they played really well. Brandon Miller played a fantastic game, the Rock D wasn’t quite as strong as Game 2 against Rochester but still played very well, and the offense played well too. Colin Doyle looked like the Doyle of old, Rob Hellyer scored a couple of beauties, and I’m liking Kevin Crowley’s additions to the team more and more – he’s not going to pull in the points that Billings did, but he plays well off the ball as well as defensively.

But the Rush defense was as stifling as ever, and Aaron Bold was excellent, as always. Mark Matthews played like the guy the Rush hoped they’d get when they drafted him almost three years ago. Not that he’s been a disappointment up until now, far from it. But he really stepped up his game this season and went from one of the best offensive players on the team to one of the best in the league. I made the bold (pun intended) prediction on twitter that he’ll be in the top 3 of MVP voting for the next ten years.

So I’m glad the Rush won for Derek and Wendy. For Aaron and Michelle. For Bruce. And for the Rush faithful who turned out strong to watch their team achieve the goal they had been chasing for ten years. Who knows – Wendy, Michelle, the fans, and the Championship might even have saved the franchise.

My most sincere congratulations to the 2015 Edmonton Rush.

My 2016 NLL wish list (Part II)

Yesterday I started my list of things I’d like to see in the NLL next season. Here are some more. Again, remember that this is a wish list, not a prediction list.

All games are available on YouTube – The NLL Live experiment was OK. I complained about it a lot and there were technical glitches, but if they do it again next year, I’ll complain and grumble some more but still get it. But it would be way better for existing fans and to try to pick up new fans if the league went back to YouTube for ALL games. Yes, maybe the league made a few bucks from NLL Live because people had to pay to watch the games, but I’m guessing the number of people who ended up watching games this year was far less than in previous years. Some die hards like me paid for it, but my A2L co-host Melissa, a similar die-hard (you might say she’s addicted to lacrosse), decided it wasn’t worth it. If she’s not going to pay for it, you’re not going to get any new fans that will.

I mocked up a potential logoA major TV deal – Duh. This has been on every NLL fan’s wish list for two decades. It doesn’t have to be all the games on NBC, ESPN, or TSN, but at least one or two a week on one of those networks would be good (as long as the rest are on YouTube). And get actual lacrosse guys to do the play-by-play and commentary. Guys like Teddy Jenner, Jake Elliott, and Jason Gregor out west, and Brian Shanahan and Andy McNamara in the east. Not Chris Driscoll.

The Blue Cross Arena gets a new hi-def system installed – It’s good that Vancouver and Rochester are three time zones apart, since games in both the LEC and the BCA are rarely on at the same time. If you were able to switch back and forth between feeds from these two arenas, the difference would be night and day. And not just regular night and day – night and day in the Sahara Desert, where there are no lights with a thousand miles at night and blinding sunshine during the day. LEC feeds are almost always crisp, clear, and high definition while feeds from Rochester are generally terrible. Maybe Santa Styres will leave a new video setup under the Knighthawk tree this Christmas.

Expansion – I think the time is just about right for the NLL to expand. There are more than enough good players to put together another good team, maybe even two. But unlike the Jim Jennings era, the $3 million expansion fee should be step 1 of many, not the only entry criteria. We need committed owners who understand that this is an investment on which they may never make profits but are willing anyway – or NHL ownership, in which case they might actually make a profit. We need a ton of market research on the location. We need a good arena deal. We need a lot of marketing and pumping the new team & brand around the new city – preferably for months before the season starts. There’s a ton to consider. Ideally, all of that can get done in time for the 2016 season, which means they need to start pretty soon. But if not 2016, definitely 2017.

Better social media – The NLL needs to hire Paul Tutka now as Marketing VP or Special Consultant or something and just let him go wild. He’s been tweeting ideas for making the NLL better since last year and is up well over 100 now. Most of them have nothing to do with the product on the floor, but deal with how the league handles Twitter and Facebook, pictures and videos they post, how their web site is organized, things like that. I can’t say I agree with 100% of them, and some of them are vague “Do this better” sort of suggestions, but I do agree with most of them. But I believe social media is a big part of Tutka’s current job, so he’s the expert, not me. He obviously knows lacrosse and the league better than most, so I think his expertise would be invaluable.

A better relationship with other lacrosse leagues – This might be a pipe dream based on how things have always been, but a guy can dream, can’t he? The NLL, MLL, MSL, and WLA all adjusting their seasons to allow players to play in any combination of them (well, maybe not MSL and WLA). Each promoting the others, giving ticket discounts and such. Each talking positively about the others. Wouldn’t it have been cool at the first Rock home game to have the Rock congratulate Miller, Doyle, Gamble, etc. on their Mann Cup victory?

The way it is now is simple – we don’t talk about you, and you don’t talk about us. We’ll all just pretend we’re the only lacrosse league there is. I have even heard that NLL execs are not allowed to mention the MLL by name. I find this difficult to believe, but in a press release this past season (that might have been about Jeremy Noble, I don’t remember), the NLL referred to “the field league” without saying “MLL”. This is simply childish.

Toronto wins their second of four straight championships – I’ve been trying to figure out how I can spin this to be good for the league in general and not just here because I’m a Rock fan. But I can’t. It probably wouldn’t be good for the league as a whole, actually. But it’s my wish list so shut up.

What did I miss? What’s on your wish list?

My 2016 NLL wish list (Part I)

As we wind down the 2015 NLL season, we take some time to look back at the season and reward those who did well. There’s talk of Champions, MVPs, and a bunch of <whatever> of the Year awards, and I’ve done my share of that on this blog, on IL Indoor, and on Addicted to Lacrosse. But now I’m going to look ahead to the 2016 season, beginning just seven short months from now. Here’s my wish list of things I’d like to see in the NLL in 2016. Now remember, this is a wish list, not a prediction list.

There are in no particular order. I started out with 4 or 5 entries, but as I wrote about each one, I thought of another one. Now I’m up to so many I decided to split the list into two.

The Edmonton Rush – I said no particular order, but I think this is still number one. I really want to see the Rush stay in Edmonton. Whether that’s Bruce Urban figuring out a way to stay or the Oilers buying the team, I honestly don’t care though I think the second option would be the best long-term solution.

The Georgia Swarm are successful – I wrote last week about the Georgia Swarm and the challenges that face them. I was rather pessimistic about their chances for success, but I hope I’m wrong.

All players return healthy – Tons of players missed time during 2015, both regular season and playoffs, due to injuries. My wish is that all of them return healthy and 100% for 2016. This includes players who missed the whole season like Kyle Sorensen, Matt Beers, and Curtis Knight; players who missed the end of the season like Callum Crawford and Andrew Suitor; and Cody Jamieson who got hurt in the playoffs. Even Garrett Billings seemed mostly better when he returned but played 8 games and only scored 5 goals. He only had as many as 6 points once in those eight games. This is uncharacteristic for Billings.

We see better lacrosse when all these guys are healthy.

Kyle Sorensen (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Earlier season – I haven’t decided whether I’d prefer a 16- or an 18-game regular season. I think I’m fine with both. But the season is ending too late – just two years ago, the finals ended on May 11. This year it will be at least June 5th and possibly June 13th. That’s just too long, particularly for players who play in the MLL, MSL, or WLA who’ll miss a good chunk of the season. The MLL season started on April 12, so Toronto and Edmonton players who are also in the MLL (Kevin Crowley, Zack Greer, possibly others) will miss two full months (over half of the season) before they’re available. It’s certainly not up to the NLL to make things easier for other leagues, but they could start their season in early December and get back to finishing up in early-mid May. Speaking of that…

Shorten playoffs – I’d like to see the first and second rounds as single-game elimination (though as a Rock fan, I’m glad that’s not how it is this year), and the finals as the best of 3. Ideally, two of those three would be in the same weekend, but I’m not sure how to do that without a brutal travel schedule in between or back-to-back games in the same city on the same weekend, which would likely result in terrible attendance for at least one of those games.

Reduce bye weeks if possible – Jamie Dawick talked about the this in a recent interview. Three teams from each division means a bye in the first round, and since the Rock had a bye in the last week of the season anyway, the semifinal with Rochester was their first game in over three weeks. And as we discussed on A2L, the Rock weren’t allowed to practice during the playoff bye week, which is silly. Dawick said the lack of games was a huge disadvantage, especially since they were playing the Knighthawks who had played twice in between the last two Rock games and had several practices. It would be nice if something could be done to even this out a bit, though I haven’t been able to come up with a solution.

John Tavares retires – This is not exactly something I want to happen, but something I think probably should happen. John Tavares is probably the best lacrosse player in the history of the NLL. He has an unbelievable 24 seasons in the league – Josh Sanderson and Colin Doyle would have to finish the 2021 season before they’re even tied, and John Grant could score 100 points four times (starting at age 41) and still not catch up. He has so many amazing numbers that I could do a full month of @NLLFactOfTheDay just on Tavares. But Father Time has finally caught up with JT and I think it’s time he hung ’em up. The Bandits are in good hands with Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith leading the offense, so now’s the right time.

More coming tomorrow.

Game report: Edmonton 15 @ Toronto 9, NLL Finals Game 1

On the Addicted to Lacrosse show this week, I picked the Rock to win Saturday night’s game because of what I saw last weekend. When the Rock hosted the Knighthawks in the division finals, they came out fired up in game 2, slowed down a touch in the second half, but then came out fired up again in the tiebreaker. They got to Matt Vinc, one of the best goaltenders anywhere, scored a bunch against one of the best defenses in the league, and kept Dan Dawson off the scoreboard (i.e. 0 goals). Any team that can do that, and has the motivation that the Rock has, will be hard to beat in the finals, especially at home. So they should win game 1.

Great logic, except it didn’t happen.

I don’t know what was said in the Rock dressing room before the Rochester game that got them so fired up (presumably it was more than just “let’s win it for T!”), but it didn’t work on Saturday night. They did come out looking pretty strong, scoring the first two goals and keeping the Rush offense from getting many decent shots, but the first two goals were the only ones in the quarter for the Rock. After Mark Matthews scored on the power play, the Rush were kept off the board for another 5 minutes before scoring 3 in under two minutes to take the lead. A fifth with under a minute left gave them a 3 goal lead at the end of the first quarter. I tweeted that the Rush were leading 7-3 at the end of the first quarter last week, and they lost. But last week they stopped playing as well as they did in the first, and the Calgary D stepped up. Neither of those things happened in this one.

The Rock weren’t terrible, mostly, but certainly not as strong as we saw last week. Miller was OK but wasn’t seeing the ball well. Rose replaced him in the second and again in the fourth and was better. The Rock D in general was also OK but had some serious lapses in judgement here and there. The Rush D, on the other hand, was stifling, and Aaron Bold was great. He was stopping almost everything from way out (that didn’t get blocked by a defender), and the Rush D wouldn’t let the Rock forwards get in close, so there was basically no way to score on him.

The Rock offense had their moments, some crisp passing and nice goals, but for the most part they were shut down by the Edmonton D. Continuing the trend that Rochester started in the semifinals, the Rush blocked an awful lot of shots. Edmonton’s forwards were generally good but holy cow, Mark Matthews was outstanding. The guy was everywhere – plowing through defenders like they weren’t there, and firing bullets at Miller or Rose. Robert Church had a good night, but I thought Jarrett Davis was very good as well. Davis was the Kasey Beirnes of the Rush: getting into the middle, setting picks, and getting pounded pretty good so that the big O guys (Matthews, Church, Greer, McIntosh) could get better looks at the net.

But the difference in the game was the transition. I couldn’t count the number of times the Rock would get a transition chance that turned into a 5 second possession after a bad shot through two defenders. Basically the Rush defense got out there so fast that the “chance” wasn’t much of a chance once they got near the net. Similarly, Rock forwards got caught on defense a lot because the Rush transition was so fast that there wasn’t time to change. Crowley isn’t bad on defense for a forward, and Josh Sanderson is a better defender at 38 than he used to be, but he’s still not great. But one of the Rush goals in the second half was scored with Sanderson, Hellyer, and Leblanc as three of the defenders. That’s just not their thing.

Game 2 goes next Friday in Edmonton and if the Rock play then like they played on Saturday, this one’s over and congrats to the Rush. But if they play like they played last week, then we’ll have a series.

Other game notes:

  • Attendance was listed as 9257, or about a thousand less than last week. The difference looked and sounded like a lot more than a thousand.
  • The Rock seemed to be dropping the ball a lot on offense. Not missed passes, and not (always) Rush defenders knocking the ball out of their stick, just plain dropping the ball.
  • Kasey Beirnes’ first goal was nice but the pass was even better. Rob Hellyer was lining up to fire a shot until at the last possible moment he saw Beirnes open beside the net. He changed his shot into a pass to Beirnes who buried it. Nice unselfish play.
  • Similarly, Mark Matthews made a beautiful pass in the third to a streaking Zack Greer who put it behind Rose (or Miller, don’t remember who was in at the time). The timing of the pass had to be perfect or Greer, who was being covered by a Rock defender, wouldn’t have gotten it. But it was perfect.
  • Near the end of the game, when the comeback was still possible, the Rock kept losing their own possessions because of moving picks. C’mon guys, when every possession is that important, don’t waste them.