I recently had the chance to chat with the very busy Teddy Jenner – host of the Off the Crosse-bar radio show on TEAM 1410 in Vancouver, in-house voice of the Washington Stealth, and writer and podcaster on ILIndoor.com. Teddy is also a former NLL and WLA player, and won a couple of Mann Cups with his hometown Victoria Shamrocks in 2003 and 2005 (and almost 2002, as he mentions below). As you might expect from someone who has both a lacrosse radio show and a regular lacrosse podcast, Teddy loves to talk lacrosse. We talked about some of the surprises this season, issues facing the NLL, and about Teddy’s broadcasting and lacrosse careers.
Many thanks to Teddy for talking with me.
Graeme Perrow: With the Mammoth starting 6-0, the Stealth starting 1-5, Minnesota’s rookies playing as well as they have, and Buffalo losing 4 in a row, there have been a number of surprises in the NLL this year. What team has surprised you the most?
Teddy Jenner: I think the biggest story this year has to be the poor start by the Washington Stealth. As the in-house announcer I get an up close and personal look at the Stealth and they aren’t the same team I’ve seen the past two years. There could be a number of reasons why they aren’t doing as well this year and I think a lot of it has to do with personnel changes. Doug Locker does a great job putting talent together and he finds a solid mix of talent but for some reason this year it hasn’t gone to plan. The loss of guys like Matt Roik, Craig Conn and Tom Johnson while may have seemed to be ‘minimal’ losses are proving wrong. Conn and Johnson were grinders – they did the little things that Marty O’Neil talked about in his IL Indoor article. And not having Matt Roik as backup to T-Rich is a bigger loss than most people think. Nothing against Chris Seidel but when the Stealth had Roiker they could switch tenders and be ok – I don’t see that confidence this year from the Stealth. One other huge loss has been Zywicki. As talented as Ratcliff and Duch are, Z was the floor leader. He was the calming presence on the floor that helped keep the ball moving, controlled the tempo of the O and was able to settle things down.
GP: Which will have a bigger impact on the Washington Stealth: the addition of Athan Iannucci to a struggling offense, or the return of head coach Chris Hall?
TJ: I think A.I. is a very talented ball player; you have to be to put up 71 goals in a year but he’s not the answer for the Stealth. As I said they need a floor general to distribute the ball, keep it moving and share the wealth to everyone. Can AI do that or be that kind of player? Possibly, hell any of their O guys could step up and be that player but it’s not in their makeup. Getting CH will be a dynamic shift. Art Webster was one of my childhood idols growing up when he played WLA with the Victoria Payless with a helmet and no facemask, wielding his woodstick like a machete. The guy played a WLA game when he was fifty! I also have the utmost respect for him as a person and a coach – however I don’t think he has control of that room. CH will come in and instantly change the vibe. I’ve played under CH and he just has a way with words that can get you fired up like no other coach can. People have said to me “but it’s not like CH hasn’t been in contact with all his coaches while away,” and they’re right, he has. But being there in person holds so much more weight than 2nd hand messages. Look for the Stealth to get back on track this weekend with CH at the helm.
GP: What’s your opinion on the Paul Rabil situation in Edmonton? Should the league get involved to prevent these kinds of situations, and if so, what can be done?
TJ: I’ve hummed and hawed over this for days, years really. The fact of the matter is that the NLL doesn’t pay players enough to force them to change, relocate or even fly-in to a specific team just because they have their rights. Do I think what Rabil’s doing is good for the game? Of course not, but what he’s doing for him personally it is the right choice. He had been asking for a trade back east for the past two seasons but Washington couldn’t find a deal that worked for them as well. Simple solution – find a way for players to live off the NLL and then moving to that city won’t be such a burden.
GP: Some have claimed that parity is sports is a bad thing – people look back and remember the years when the Yankees / Oilers / Rock were so dominant and they remember the dynasties. Nobody reminisces about the years when anyone could have won and there was no clear favourite. The NLL has about as much parity now as ever – do you think this is good or bad for the league?
TJ: I love the parity! As great are dynasties are (for that city/team/fans) it doesn’t do much to spread the growth of the game, if one team is winning every year after year. When any team has a chance to win I think it’s awesome! How cool would it be to see the Swarm win a title? Or Edmonton, then the next year Philly get it? The back and forth between the Rock and Stealth has been great. A bit of a rivalry has built but also the reach of the game has grown. Parity in the NLL or any sport provides fantastic competition across the board.
GP: Who are some of the first- and second-year players in the league today that you think could make a major impact in the future?
TJ: Andrew Suitor is one of the first names that comes to mind. The kid’s a beast and is playing like a 7 year vet in just year 2. He was so mentally and physically ready in his first year it was silly. Look at the list of first and 2nd year players who are from Orangeville – scary!! Kyle Rubisch is another guy that possessed so many NLL ready qualities before he even played an NLL game. He’s a monster and will be a long time top 5 defender for many many years. I really could go on and on, Crowley, Travis Cornwall, Dickson, Jamieson, Keogh etc. etc. etc… The one guy this year that actually caught me off guard was Johnny Powless in Rochester – for some reason I pictured him as Kedoh Hill – small, still needs to grow and mature a bit more and would struggle in his first year… BOY WAS I WRONG!!
GP: BREAKING NEWS: Teddy Jenner is the new NLL commissioner! What’s the first rule change you make?
TJ: First off, I’d force the Aquilini family (owners of the Vancouver Canucks) to buy a team and make them hire CH [Chris Hall] as the GM and give Ed Comeau the head coach job…. But my first rule change would be to shut the 30 second shot clock off when a team is shorthanded. I know there are pros and cons to this but I think a team should have to work to get the ball back when on the power-play. Fans will completely rally behind watching their players rag the ball for 45 seconds or more killing off the penalty and gaining momentum. I’d also gas instant replay unless every rink had an overhead camera that worked, and at least 2 different camera angles to access – because without it, you get goals like Geoff Snider’s vs Washington two weeks ago where he was 2 feet in the crease and the ref was at the restraining line.
GP: What’s the first change you make that doesn’t involve on-floor rules?
TJ: Improving the quality of our product to our viewers is huge. If a game isn’t on TV, and really not many are, how are the outlets going to get to see it? First off, create an intenet/TV show – 30/60 minutes in length but it would have game highlights, interviews, guests, etc., professionally done and full of sponsors. Also, I’d fix the league website. I know they just revamped it but come on, taking me to an offsite spreadsheet that takes forever to load if I want to look up the career stats of any past player is ridiculous. I’m not sure whose idea it was to change from the old site – while it did need a face lift, they didn’t need a brand new site… Pointstreak where are you?!?!
GP: Moving away from the NLL, let’s talk about your broadcasting career a little. How did that come about? Were you looking to get into radio, or did it happen accidentally?
TJ: I’ve always wanted to be in broadcasting. Vic Rauter and Graham Leggat doing Soccer Saturdays on TSN when I was a kid consumed me! Chris Berman was an icon, Leif ‘he’s got rope’ Elsmo was the guy I always wanted to be and I knew it was where I’d end up. Four years of College in Erie, PA and a journalism degree with a sports broadcasting concentration threw me into the fire (thanks to Craig Rybczynski, the Knighthawks PR guy, who was one of my teachers). I did everything I could to be involved in the behind-the-scenes work of Knighthawk games in my rookie year, even did colour for a game with Craig when we were in Ottawa one game. I was hooked. Once I was out of the league, I started giving back. Working with Sportsnet for the Minto Cup back in mid 2000s, working for different radio and TV stations doing anything and everything I could. Then I started writing for RudeBoys lacrosse as their west coast analyst, which led me to working more and more with Paul Tutka who brought me into NLL Insider [now IL Indoor] 4 years ago.
While writing for IL, I was working for the family car biz (I did not enjoy that but family comes first). I needed a change but everywhere I went for work in radio I was told I needed more experience. So my pops found a 10 month radio school program in Vancouver. 10 months later and after a two month internship at TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver, I had a job there as producer and board operator. From the first day I was there I was asking how I could get my own lacrosse radio show and they said all I had to do was find people who were willing to sponsor my show by buying advertising time on the station and I’d be good to go. Well thanks to some great sponsors, last May 3 Off the Crosse-bar launched and has been rolling ever since!
GP: Who has been your favourite person to interview so far?
TJ: Every lacrosse guy has been great cause we’re all on common ground and all want the best for the game. I’ve never been turned down for an interview cause lacrosse guys love to talk! But I love talking to old school guys that played when there were less pads and all wooden sticks! Chris Hall, Kevin Alexander can tell stories till they’re blue in the face. I like talking with guys I played against, cause I always despised them but knew they had their own stories. Curt Malawsky was one of those guys. I hated playing against him but if you ever sit down and chat with him, his knowledge of the game is so vast its crazy! But then talking to some of the young guys who are really humble and realize their place in the game is very refreshing as well.
GP: A few quick questions on your playing career. Who was the toughest goalie to score on?
TJ: I never liked playing against Rob Blasdell in the NLL – he was just so big and unorthodox in the pipes. I could have him cold beat out of position but he’d throw a leg out in some odd position and make the save. But in the summer time Curtis Palidwor – I could often get him with the twister, but most of the time he had my number.
GP: Best defender you’ve ever faced:
TJ: Andy Turner hands down! I remember when he and Tom Hajek came out west in Jr to play for Burnaby, they just had this attitude and style that I had never seen before and it was terrifying!
GP: Toughest forward to defend against:
TJ: Any guy that was always moving without the ball. Guys like JT, Curt Malawsky, Aaron Wilson may not be the fastest guys but they’re so crafty off the ball that you always have to keep your eye on them or they’ll literally pull you off balance and run right by you, score a goal, then let you know about it.
GP: Favourite arena to play in as a visitor:
TJ: The really loud ones! My first ever game was in Philadelphia and I remember the interview I did before the game (for halftime on the online broadcast). I talked about watching my brother play there and the lure of 18000 fans telling the opposing players they sucked! I looked forward to that moment, so when they called my name I sort of paused and soaked it in. Then I scored my first goal on Dallas Eliuk and we got spanked! But the noise in that rink was unreal. The Pepsi Centre in Denver and First Niagara in Buffalo were the other two just ’cause the fans are nuts (read: passionate). I was on the floor for the first ever sock trick when Gary Gait scored 6 on us (Anaheim). Matt Disher and I were standing there looking at each other – “are they throwing fucking socks?!” I loved playing there cause you knew you were the enemy!
GP: Mann Cup or NLL Championship?
TJ: Well I have two Mann Cups but I should have had 3 (see the 2002 Mann Cup vs. Brampton where we were down 3-0 after the first 3 games, won the next 3, then were up 7-1 midway through the 3rd period and lost) but since I never won it, I’d like a shot at a Champions Cup one more time. But it doesn’t look too easy to drink out of!
GP: How much field lacrosse have you played?
TJ: I played field from when I was like 13 on. I went to prep High School in the US for grade 9 and 10 – Western Reserve Academy (aka WRA) then the 4 years playing NCAA field lacrosse as well. I grew up playing box in the summer and soccer in the winter, then when I was 13, I dropped soccer and picked up field lax from then on it was summers in the box and winters playing field. Then even after college when I was back home in the off seasons I was playing club ball/house league in Victoria.
GP: Do you prefer to play field or box lacrosse?
TJ: Box all the way! Field’s great but I actually find it more relaxing to play cause it’s more controlled and mechanical. Box is an all out sprint all game!!