Stephen Stamp: From boats in BC to the ‘Boro and the Borrelli

Stephen Stamp is a busy guy. During the last NLL season, he recorded 19 episodes of his radio show Boxla Beat, in which he interviewed more than forty NLL players, coaches, writers, and announcers. He also broadcasted the NLL entry draft for NLL.com and was one of the most prolific writers at ILIndoor.com, covering not only the NLL but CLax and MSL as well.

Last week, Stamp was rewarded by the National Lacrosse League for his dedication to his craft by being named the 2013 winner of the Tom Borrelli award for Media Person of the Year.

Over the past eight years, Stamp has interviewed hundreds of lacrosse people, done in-game play-by-play and commentary for countless games, and written thousands of articles. I thought it would be fun to put him on the other side of the table, making him the interviewee rather than the interviewer. Many thanks to Stephen for talking to me.

Stephen StampStamp was born and raised in the lacrosse hotbed of Peterborough, Ontario. He played both house league box lacrosse and high school field lacrosse, and grew up watching the Peterborough Lakers of the MSL. An accomplished rower, Stamp moved to Victoria, BC when he was 22 to take part in Olympic rowing trials. Though he just missed making several Olympic teams, he won a silver medal representing Canada at the World Rowing Championships in the Under-23 division.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in writing from the University of Victoria, Stamp moved back east, living in Durham, New Hampshire for a year and a half while earning a Masters degree in writing from the University of New Hampshire. He then moved back to BC and stayed there for well over a decade, managing and coaching at a rowing club in North Vancouver, and also coaching regional, provincial, and national junior rowing teams. To keep his broadcasting chops fresh, he also did freelance writing, editing, and announcing.

But in 2006, Stamp decided he needed a change. “It was fantastic for a while, but I just felt like I was ready to do something else. I was going through some personal issues and feeling really burnt out on what I was doing,” he said. “I’ve suffered from depression for a long time and it kind of came to a head for me, so I really just needed some change in my life.” He decided to move back east once again, returning to his home town. “Peterborough is where my family is, so I decided to come back here for a while. When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get out of Peterborough, but when I came back I realized that it’s a great city and great place to live.”

After continuing his broadcasting education at Loyalist College in Belleville, Stamp combined his education with his lifelong interest in lacrosse and started doing colour for MSL games on TV Cogeco. In 2010, he began writing about the NLL and MSL for IL Indoor, and was named co-editor a year later. In the fall of 2011, he started Boxla Beat, a popular internet radio show focusing on box lacrosse.

Interviewing two or three people a week for his show as well as for IL Indoor articles has meant that Stamp has talked to many different players over the years. “Colin Doyle is always an excellent interview,” Stamp explains, “because he’s very open and honest and well-spoken, a great ambassador for the game.” Another favourite of his is Washington Stealth star Athan Iannucci. “I think we have sort of similar personalities and views on a lot of things. I like the way he really thinks about stuff and looks deeply into them and isn’t afraid to think outside the box, doesn’t worry if people think he’s odd.”

If Iannucci’s Stealth teammate Kyle Sorensen needs a job after his lacrosse career ends, he may consider a co-hosting gig on Boxla Beat. “The first time I had him on, I was doing the show on my computer from the Montreal House here in Peterborough. When he was done, he just struck around while I interviewed my other guests,” recalls Stamp. “While I was talking to one of them, he motioned to me to ask if it was okay if he asked a question. I was like, absolutely, go ahead. Kyle asked some really good interviews and the rest of the show he was like a really good co-host with me. He’s smart and very insightful into the game and he’s just a nice and funny guy.”

Sorensen’s name came up again later in the interview when I asked Stephen about “unsung” players. He mentioned defenders in general, since “there simply aren’t the statistics that make it easy to compare players and understand how effective they are at what they do”, but two specific current players he mentioned were Sorensen (“He’s one of the great leaders in the game”) and Scott Self (“he really is one of the steadiest guys playing”). One retired player he mentioned is Pat Coyle, who he believes should be in the NLL Hall of Fame. “I don’t know if he’s unsung, because I think people get how great he was, but I’d like to see that happen.”

We Ontarians are lucky to have three different pro box lacrosse leagues represented here, two of which are entirely based in Ontario, and not surprisingly, Stamp is a big fan of all three. “I enjoy the speed and athleticism of the NLL, especially now that the talent level is so deep on every team,” he said. “CLax is good quality lacrosse with players who are really hungry to play the game. It’s also really fast and high-scoring. I appreciate good defensive play, but end-to-end lacrosse is pretty darned exciting, too.” But Stamp grew up watching Major Series Lacrosse and it holds a special place in his heart.

“I remember seeing the Peterborough Lakers and New Westminster Salmonbellies playing in the Mann Cup and going down to New West’s locker room after the last game to ask Kevin Alexander for a pair of his socks. My friend and I each got a pair and we wore them for our own practices with immense pride. Probably seems weird asking someone for his socks, but they were really cool socks and Kevin was one of my favourite players. If he’s reading this, he’s probably thinking wow, Stamp was one of those weird kids that wanted my sweaty socks back in the day.

I love the heightened pressure and intensity of the one-and-done playoff format in the NLL, but I don’t think there is anything better than a best-of-seven series for the MSL title or the Mann Cup.”

The NLL’s playoff format has been the topic of some discussion recently, so I asked Stephen his thoughts. He likes the CFL-style crossover that allowed the Swarm to play in the East playoffs in 2013, but admits the system could use some tweaking. He’s an advocate of rearranging the teams into a single division with only four teams making the playoffs, which would include a best-of-three final. But it only makes sense to do that if the league were to stay at 9 teams, he explains. “There’s no point switching to a system like that if the league is going to grow, which I believe it will do soon.”

It does seem like expansion has been on the league’s mind recently, and assuming a new CBA is done and a willing owner is available, Stamp agrees with many who see Vancouver as the likely first choice. “Whether a team eventually goes to Langley or if there’s a way to work out a deal that could put a team in the Pacific Coliseum, I just hope it can happen soon because as everyone can see it’s just so obvious that there should be a team in Vancouver.” Montreal is another place Stamp would like to see the NLL return to, and despite the fact that New York and New Jersey have each failed twice, he thinks the New York area might still work in the NLL. “With the new development happening around the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, maybe that could work out, he says. I think it’s important to keep an open mind.”

We wrapped up with a few “quickie” questions and one tougher one:

GP: If you were NLL Commissioner, what’s the first rule change you would make?
SS: I would probably go with not having the shot clock run when a team is shorthanded and has possession of the ball. Again, it’s something that I grew up with. I really enjoy the strategy and skill involved in killing a penalty.

GP: What is your most memorable moment from a lacrosse game you were watching or covering?
SS: One thing that leaps to mind is the goal that Paul Rabil scored in the 2010 NLL championship game in Toronto. I was live blogging the game for IL Indoor and Rabil hit Bob Watson with a shot that actually knocked Whipper back into the net and sent one of his gloves flying off. It was unbelievable.

GP: Do you follow field lacrosse at all?
SS: I follow some field lacrosse. I can’t really watch any MLL because it’s very difficult to get in Canada and the only Canadian team is about a three and a half hour drive away. Most of the field lacrosse I see is at tournaments, particularly ones that I’m recording for my video production business, Sports and More Video. I actually like watching recruiting tournaments quite a bit because the focus isn’t so much on coaching everything down to the finest detail, but rather just letting the players play and the game flow. Some folks say it’s basically box lacrosse on a big outdoor field, which I suppose is why I like it so much. I suspect I would really enjoy MLL if I got a chance to see it more, because of the shot clock and the sheer talent level of the players. 

GP: Troy Cordingley was fired as Toronto Rock coach after the Rock finished first overall and he won the Les Bartley Award. What do you think of this move?
SS: That really caught me by surprise. It seems surprising that Terry Sanderson would remove Troy from his position. On the other hand, Terry is a consummate pro and would do what he felt was best for the team. Keep in mind that Terry also fired himself as the team’s defensive coach. Someone pointed out to me that Troy has young children and a full-time teaching job and perhaps he was getting a little overextended. He may even have felt like he needed a change or a break himself. Of course, now the speculation is that Buffalo will hire him to replace Darris Kilgour. I’ll believe that when I see it, though.

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Coach of the Year? Sorry, not good enough.

Earlier this year the NLL had a GM trading for himself, in what was likely a first in pro sports. In what might be another first, we now have the reigning Coach of the Year being fired by his team. Make no mistake: Troy Cordingley did not retire from coaching, he did not leave to take a different job or pursue other interests, it didn’t even sound like “a mutual decision for the benefit of the club”. He was fired.

Although this is the first time in league history that the Les Bartley Award winner was fired, it will be the fourth time the Coach of the Year does not begin the next season with the same team. The first time was in 2001, the first year the award was presented. The inaugural winner was Philadelphia Wings head coach Tony Resch. Resch had just coached the Wings to their 6th Championship, and the retired from coaching a couple of months after receiving the award, and was replaced by Adam Mueller.

Seven years later, Mueller won the award (which had been renamed the Les Bartley Award in 2004) with the New York Titans, and then he retired from coaching. The next time it happened, it was none other than Troy Cordingley at the other end of his Toronto Rock career. Cordingley won the Bartley award with the Calgary Roughnecks after leading them to the NLL Championship in 2009, and then left the Roughnecks in the offseason to join the Toronto Rock.

John LovellSo this is the first time this has happened in the NLL. But has it happened anywhere else? The only other similar situation I could find was in 2010, when the University of Maryland fired their football coach Ralph Friedgen after he won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coach of the Year award. As far as I could see, it has never happened in the NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB.

Update: It has happened before in a pro sport. Ted Nolan was fired as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres after winning the Jack Adams trophy for the 1996-1997 season. Thanks to @GlenMcDole for the correction.

Anyway, enough history, back to the Rock. I have been called a Rock apologist and fanboy, and have been told that this blog focuses too much on the Rock, and perhaps that’s somewhat true. (Of course I’ve also been told that I’m not a real Rock fan because I said something negative about them, or picked them to lose a game, or something like that. I can’t win.) Well, I have no explanation for this particular move. Cordingley took the Rock to the Championship game in 2010, won it all in 2011, finished first in the division in 2012, and finished first overall in 2013. That sounds like four pretty successful seasons to me. Yes, the goal of every team is to win the Championship and they did that only once in that time. But they were a legitimate contender for the Championship in each of those seasons. Maybe that’s the problem – they were contenders every year but only won it all once.

Perhaps I’m enough of a Toronto sports fan that I consider simply not sucking as a successful season, since that’s been true for the Leafs, Raptors, and Blue Jays for the last 20 years. But for Jamie Dawick and the rest of the Rock management, winning the Championship is the only measure of success – anything less is failure. Perhaps they looked at the last few years in a slightly different way – 2011: Championship. 2012: Lost in second round. 2013: Lost in first round. It’s obviously a small sample size, but they got booted from the playoffs earlier in each of the last two seasons. Something similar happened to Dave Pym (now a Rock scout) a couple of years ago. He coached the Roughnecks to three straight seasons of 10+ wins, finishing first overall in two of them, but because of their lack of post-season success (did not reach the finals in any of those years), Pym was fired. Pym’s regular season record as Roughnecks coach was 33-15, but the record that got him fired was the 1-3 in the post-season. Perhaps the Rock thought the same way – finishing first overall is great and all, but if you don’t win in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter.

Personally, I am unconvinced that the two most recent post-season losses were enough to fire Cordingley. I’ve seen people calling it a stupid move and the dumbest move the Rock have made in years. That may be a bit strong, but if the entire decision rested on the loss to the Knighthawks in the 2nd round last year and the loss to the Swarm this year, I don’t think that’s enough. I’m not as angry as some others, but I am confused. Perhaps there’s more to this than has been announced. Interestingly, Terry Sanderson also “fired” himself as defensive coach.

Is John Lovell as good a head coach as Troy Cordingley? Maybe, there’s no way to know yet. He has tons of lacrosse coaching experience, though none as a head coach at the NLL level. But he’s won Championships as an assistant coach, the players know him, and he’s well respected in the lacrosse community. But the team is replacing a man who’s won two Championships as a head coach and is one of only two men to win multiple Les Bartley Awards. And if a guy like that can’t keep his job after getting to the finals twice, winning once, and finishing first the other two years, Lovell’s got some awfully big shoes to fill.