When people talk about athletes and how great they are or were, one statistic that almost always comes up is how many Championships they won. I have always fundamentally disagreed with this as a measure of how good a player is. While this is obviously a great measure of success for a golfer or tennis player, it doesn’t always work so well for team sports. If you’ve played your whole career on crappy teams, like Marcel Dionne, or on great teams that just never won that final game, like Dan Marino, the lack of Championships is not a reflection of your abilities or talent. We are, after all, talking about team sports. Similarly, I don’t know who the worst player on the 2001 Wings or 2009 Roughnecks was, but that player has won more Championships that anyone listed here.
The measure of “Championships won” is perhaps slightly different in the National Lacrosse League, only because of the size of the league. The title goes to one of 32 teams in the NFL and one of 30 teams in the NHL, NBA, and MLB. The NLL only has nine. Given that plus the parity in the league, your odds are a little better if you play in the NLL.
Here are a bunch of players, some retired and some still active, who have played a significant amount of time in the NLL and have seen success but have never hoisted the Champion’s Cup. These are in alphabetical order.
Ryan Benesch (2007-present)
Benesch leads this list in career points, 78 ahead of his Swarm teammate Callum Crawford. Beni spent time with the Rock during their lean years, the Rush before they were good, then the Swarm. He has been one of the top producers on the Bandits for the past three years and got to the Championship game in 2016.
Callum Crawford (2006-present)
Crawford bounced around at the beginning of his career, spending his first four seasons in the league with four different teams before catching on with the Minnesota Swarm in 2010. But if you’re looking for Championships, the Swarm hasn’t yet been the place to be. Crawford was the top scorer on the team for four of his six seasons in Minnesota and then had a career year with the Mammoth in 2016. He is now one of the three holders of the single-season assists record (83) but has never been to the finals.
Chad Culp (2003-present)
Another guy who spent time on the Swarm, the Culprit also played with the Saints, the Sting (the only year they missed the playoffs), and the Mammoth (when they were 0-8 at home and 4-12 overall) before spending six seasons with the Bandits. Culp headed to the Championship game along with Benesch last season. Culp leads this list in games played among non-goaltenders.
Derek Malawsky (1998-2010)
Malawsky is tied with Casey Powell (below) with the most trips to the finals without ever having won. He reached the championship game with the Knighthawks in 2003, the Sting in 2007, and the LumberJax in 2008, and in all three trips he was beaten by a franchise he used to play for. Harsh.
Brodie Merrill (2006-present)
Brother Patrick has two rings with the Rock, and he’s been to the dance twice, with the LumberJax in 2008 and the Rock in 2015. Probably nobody on this list has accomplished as much in his lacrosse career as Brodie Merrill has. Actually, very few lacrosse players on any list have accomplished as much as Brodie Merrill has, except in terms of NLL Championships.
Miller has also been to the finals twice, once early in his career and once late. He was with the Albany Attack in 2002 (his second season) when they lost to the Rock, but didn’t actually play in the game. Then after thirteen seasons with stops in San Jose, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Miller finally returned to the Championship series with the Rock in 2015 only to lose to the Rush. Miller leads this list in games played although as a goalie, he gets credit for a game played even if he’s the backup and never touches the floor. It’s difficult to know how often that’s happened.
Sean Pollock (2004-2015)
Yet another player who spent a lot of time (seven years) with the Swarm, Pollock also spent 3½ seasons with the Mammoth and finished his career with the Roughnecks, where he went to the division finals against the Rush in 2015.
Mike Poulin (2007-present)
Poulin learned from two of the best, backing up Bob Watson in Toronto and Anthony Cosmo in Boston before heading to Calgary and grabbing the #1 spot for himself. The Roughnecks went to the finals in 2014 but lost a heartbreaker by a single goal in the first-ever Championship tiebreaker game. Poulin is now the starter for the Georgia Swarm and is hoping to break the Swarm’s Championship-free streak.
Update: Poulin won the Cup with the Georgia Swarm in 2017.
Casey Powell (1999-2014)
Powell was close to winning the Championship with the Knighthawks three times. In his rookie year, 1999, Rochester went to the finals against the Rock but Toronto won their first-ever Championship. The next season, Kaleb Toth scored the most famous Championship goal in NLL history as the Rock defeated the Knighthawks again. Powell then played for the Anaheim Storm, New York and Orlando Titans, and Boston Blazers, reaching the Championship game again with the New York Titans in 2009. Then after taking 2012 off, Powell returned to the Knighthawks in 2013. Rochester won their second of three straight Championships that year but Powell had been traded to the Mammoth mid-season.
Geoff Snider (2007-2015)
Snider played four seasons with the Philadelphia Wings, where his only sniff of the playoffs was a single game in 2008. He did his part though, winning 28 of the 30 face-offs in that game. He had better playoff luck in his five seasons with the Roughnecks, where he played in ten playoffs games. But the 2014 loss to the Knighthawks was the only Championship appearance in Snider’s dominant but all-too-brief career. My realization that Snider never won a Championship was the inspiration for this list.
Ryan Ward (2004-2014)
Given the rest of this list, you’ll never guess where Ward played much of his career. Why yes, Philadelphia and Minnesota are correct! Ward played a season and a half in Philly before being traded to the Swarm, where he played another 4½ seasons. He joined the Rush in 2010 and went to the finals in 2012 but lost to the Knighthawks.