Memories of my first season as an NLL fan

I grew up in southern Ontario. Other than a year and a half in Ottawa and a four month work term in Redmond, Washington, I have lived my entire life within a two-hour drive of Toronto. That area is home to about 60% of NLL players. But unlike them, my first exposure* to the sport of lacrosse came when I was twenty-one. My university roommate Steve bought himself a lacrosse stick. He didn’t know anyone else who had one, so he played a lot of wall ball. The extent of my lacrosse experience at that time consisted of tossing a ball straight up a few times, not much further than a foot or two. I usually caught it.

After that semester, lacrosse left my mind once again and stayed out until almost ten years later. On April 1, 2000, I went with some friends to a Wings/Bandits game in Buffalo. That’s the day I fell in love with lacrosse. I immediately became a Rock season ticket holder and in December of that year, I went to my first ever Toronto Rock game, a 17-7 win over the Ottawa Rebel. Here are some of my memories and impressions about the team and the league from that year.

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Watson vs Eliuk vs Vinc

For many years, the question of “best goaltender in NLL history” has had two answers: Bob “Whipper” Watson and Dallas Eliuk. Some say Dallas, some say Whipper, some can’t decide between the two. It’s rare that you hear someone other than one of those two described as the best ever. But the question of Whipper vs. Dallas as the best ever may soon become outdated. Nothing’s being clarified, however; the waters are getting even muddier.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matt Vinc has been the best goaltender in the NLL over the past decade. The awards and numbers certainly back that up:

  • Five Goaltender of the Year awards in six years
  • Three Championships plus two other trips to the finals
  • Led the league in GAA in 2013, finished in the top three four other times
  • Holds three of the top ten spots in the “Best GAA in a Season” list (see weird aside below)
  • Has the second-lowest career GAA among starters in NLL history
  • Second in NLL history in career saves; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game two or three next season (he’s 104 behind)
  • Second in NLL history in career minutes; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game four or five next season (he’s 221 behind)
  • Third in NLL history in career playoff GAA
  • First in NLL history in career playoff minutes and saves, ahead of second place by over 300 minutes and 170 saves

Weird aside: Here’s an odd one for @NLLFactOfTheDay: A starting goalie has finished a season with a sub-10.00 GAA only 17 times in NLL history. Matt Vinc has done it four times. Nobody else has done it more than twice. Yet Vinc didn’t lead the league in GAA in any of those four seasons. And here’s the craziest part: in 2010, Vinc finished with a GAA of 9.51, the seventh best of all-time, but he finished fourth in GAA that season.

Photo credit: Micheline Velovulo

Vinc has won five Goaltender of the Year awards, while Watson won only two and Eliuk never won any. This is, of course, meaningless since the award didn’t exist before 2001. Eliuk’s career was more than half over by the time the award came into being and from 2002 until the end of his career, his teams were generally pretty lousy. (His 2008 LumberJax made the finals, but Eliuk was the backup goalie by then.) Having said that, Watson won the 2008 Goaltender of the Year award on a sub-.500 team that missed the playoffs.

When comparing players’ careers, I never compare the number of Championships they won. That is entirely a team statistic and has no bearing on whether one individual player was better than another. Brodie Merrill has never won an NLL title but he’s arguably better than an awful lot of players who have. But if you must know, Eliuk won six with the Wings, Watson six with the Rock, and Vinc three with the Knighthawks.

If we’re going to compare these three goalies, shouldn’t we just compare their stats directly? Let’s try. Vinc has a lifetime GAA of 10.88. Watson’s was 11.14, while Eliuk was 12.24. So Vinc’s GAA is 0.26 lower than Watson and 1.36 lower than Eliuk. Pretty clear that he’s the best of the three, right? Actually, no.

During Dallas Eliuk’s career spanning 1992-2008, the average number of goals scored in an NLL game was 25.66. During Bob Watson’s career from 1998-2011, the average dropped to 24.82, and during the Matt Vinc years from 2006-2018, the average was only 23.41. Eliuk had a higher GAA because more goals were scored in general during his career (2.25 more per game) than during Vinc’s. Thus you’d expect Eliuk’s GAA to be higher than Vinc’s. If you assign half the difference in goals scored to each goalie, Eliuk would have a sort of “handicap” of 1.13 over Vinc, so the 1.36 difference in their GAAs is really only about 0.23. Similarly, Watson’s adjusted GAA is actually lower than Vinc’s.

I don’t have numbers for shots faced before 2005, so I can’t compare their career save percentages. But from 2005-2018, Vinc has a save percentage of 78.2%, third behind Steve Dietrich and Ken Montour (and a handful of others with just a couple of games played). Watson is only three players back of Vinc at 77.4% while Eliuk is a fair ways back at 75.9%. Again though, that only covers the last three years of Eliuk’s career, not his prime.

Not that this is news, but there’s no really good way to compare players who played in different eras. Eliuk’s career and Vinc’s only overlapped by three years, but Eliuk was past his prime by then and Vinc wasn’t yet the standout goalie he would become. The game was different enough during the years before and the years after that statistics can’t be directly compared. Watson’s career overlapped both for a longer period of time but there is a twelve-year age difference between Watson and Vinc (and six years between Watson and Eliuk) so comparisons are still difficult.

So which of the three is the best ever? There’s no correct answer – arguments can be made for any of the three. Maybe we have to say Eliuk is the best of the 1990’s, Watson the best of the 2000’s, and Vinc the best of the 2010’s, and leave it at that. The only thing we can definitively say is that this is no longer a two-horse race.


The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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Deconstructing the 2008 Minnesota Swarm

While searching for facts for @NLLFactOfTheDay, I stumbled upon a couple of crazy games by the Swarm in 2008. That made me look over the 2008 season for the Swarm in a little more detail, and I found some more fun little tidbits. The 2008 season was long enough ago that there are lots of familiar names involved in these games but not always on the teams you might expect. But it was also recent enough that I remember some of these things happening.

So here’s a summary of the 2008 Swarm season. If you like this idea, maybe I’ll deconstruct some other memorable seasons, perhaps the 2007 Knighthawks or 2005 Rock. But like the ’08 Swarm, it doesn’t have to be Championship teams; it might also be fun to look at the 1-15 2006 Rush. Send in your suggestions! But note that I only have detailed information going back to 2005. Before that I can only talk about wins/losses, final scores, attendance, and season scoring stats.

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Five players you didn’t know played somewhere else

Everyone knows that John Tavares played his entire career with the Bandits. Similarly, Blaine Manning played with nobody but the Rock, Andrew McBride with the Roughnecks, and there are a few others.

And then there are a number of other players who you might think are in the same boat because they’ve played so long with one team that you can’t think of them playing anywhere else. But they did. If you’re a long-time fan of the league, you may know all of these but I’d guess that for many of you, at least one of these will be a surprise. The first one was for me and led me to look around for more.

These are in no particular order.

Jeff Shattler

Can you imagine Shattler in any jersey other than the Roughnecks? How about Bandit orange? Shattler played a single game with the Buffalo Bandits in 2006, where he picked up one assist and three loose balls. He was then traded to the Roughnecks along with a second round draft pick for Kevin Dostie. Shattler’s now in his eleventh season with Calgary, having played over 190 games and amassed over 700 points. He also won the Transition Player of the Year and MVP awards in 2011. Dostie picked up 157 points in 53 games over four seasons in Buffalo so it’s not like the Bandits got nothing back, but I’m going to call Calgary the winner on that one.

Incidentally, that second round pick that Calgary also picked up? They used it to draft Jamie Lincoln, who never played for Calgary but did see time with the Mammoth, Stealth, and Black Wolves.

Jeff Shattler

Mark Steenhuis

Steenhuis has been a Bandit his whole life, right? Wrong. He actually played a full season with the Columbus Landsharks in 2002, picking up 30 points in 12 games. He’s since played 233 games as a Bandit.

Bob Watson

Watson actually played for two different teams before the Rock, but one was the Ontario Raiders (who turned into the Rock after one season in Hamilton) so that doesn’t really count. But Whipper also played 268 minutes for the Baltimore Thunder in 1996, where he had a very un-Whipper-like 17.24 GAA. He took 1997 off entirely and returned to the NLL with the Raiders in 1998 and then played 13 seasons with the Rock, where he only had two seasons with a GAA above 12 (and one of them was 12.04). Oh, and two Goaltender of the Year awards, two NLL Championship Game MVP awards, six championships, and a Hall of Fame induction.

Jimmy Quinlan

Quinlan became the face of the Edmonton Rush from 2006-2013, playing over 125 games, many of them as captain. He then became an assistant coach with the team, where he remains. Many Rush fans can’t imagine the team without Jimmy Quinlan. But Quinlan picked up 10 points in 8 games, and a Championship ring, with the Toronto Rock in 2005.

Scott Ranger

Ranger was drafted by the San Jose Stealth and actually played parts of two seasons (11 points in 9 games in 2004 and 2005) there before heading to Calgary where he picked up more than 450 points in 137 regular season and playoff games over 8 years.

Six degrees of Bob Watson

I realized the other day that a large number of goaltenders in the NLL have played with Anthony Cosmo. This is not surprising seeing as how he’s been around so long. Then I realized that both he and Mike Poulin are the only goaltenders left in the league who played alongside the great Bob Watson, so it turned into a little game – how many steps is each goalie from Bob Watson?

I’ve gone through the current goaltenders in the league and assigned them a “Whipper number”, defined thusly:

  • Bob Watson has a Whipper number of 0.
  • Anyone else has a Whipper number one greater than the lowest Whipper number of anyone they played with.

GOATSo if you played on a team at the same time as Watson, your Whipper number is 1. If you didn’t but played with someone with a Whipper number of 1, your Whipper number is 2, and so on. If you are familiar the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game or Erdős numbers in mathematics, it’s the same idea.

I decided to limit it to just goaltenders, so Tyler Richards playing with Colin Doyle who played with Whipper doesn’t count.


Anthony Cosmo played with Whipper on the Rock 2001-2004, and Mike Poulin did from 2007-2008.


Christian Del Bianco played with Mike Poulin in 2016, while Frank Scigliano did from 2012-2016. Davide DiRuscio played with Cosmo in 2016. Brodie MacDonald plays with Poulin in Georgia now (2017). Matt Vinc played with Cosmo in San Jose in 2006. Angus Goodleaf played with Cosmo in Buffalo from 2010-2012. Aaron Bold played with Cosmo on San Jose from 2007-2008, and Brandon Miller did from 2005-2006. Nick Rose played with Cosmo on Boston in 2010-2011 and also played with Poulin in Calgary for part of 2012.


Tyler Carlson has played with Aaron Bold on the Rush since 2015. Tyler Richards played with Bold on the San Jose Stealth in 2009. Evan Kirk played with Brandon Miller on the Wings in 2014. Steve Fryer played with Miller on the Wings in 2012 and the Rock in 2014 and 2016.


Tye Belanger played with Evan Kirk on the Black Wolves in 2015-2016. Doug Jamieson plays with Kirk on the Black Wolves now (2017).


Dillon Ward played with Tye Belanger in Colorado in 2014.


Alexis Buque has played with Ward in Colorado since 2015.

So 11 of the 18 goalies in the league (61%) either played with Whipper or played with someone who did. Like I said, this isn’t really surprising, since Watson has only been retired for 5 seasons and both Cosmo and Poulin have each been around for 10+ years and have played in a number of cities.

Next project: six degrees of Mat Giles. Giles played for 12 different teams in 15 seasons and retired in 2013 so I suspect 80% of the league has a Giles number of at most 2.

Top 5 Colin Doyle memories

Last week we talked about Colin Doyle, his retirement, and how well respected he was throughout his career. This week I’ll talk about a few of my own memories of Colin over the years. Here are the top five:

5. The Shoes

In February 2011, the Calgary Roughnecks came to Toronto for a mid-season tilt. As many Calgary-Toronto games tend to be, this one was exciting and came down to the wire, finishing with the Rock on top after an Aaron Pascas winner in overtime. But during a stoppage in play in the overtime period, a ref sent Colin Doyle to the bench. I was at the game and didn’t know why at the time. I only knew that Doyle was not happy about it, vanished into the dressing room, and returned a couple of minutes later.

It turned out that Doyle was not wearing league-sponsor Rebook shoes, and the Calgary bench waited until overtime to notify the refs, who were obligated by the rules to send Doyle off the floor. He went to the dressing room, put on a pair of Reeboks (apparently belonging to the trainer, and 2½ sizes too big), and returned. Calgary’s tactic was sound, but didn’t work. Pascas’s goal was unassisted but Doyle helped set it up.

4. The Fighter

In January of 2010, Colin Doyle made his second debut with the Rock after an off-season trade brought him back from San Jose. His return to the ACC was a game against the Boston Blazers, and things got rough in the first quarter. Five minutes into his return, he got into a fight with the 6’5″ Paul Dawson, one of the better fighters in the NLL. Note that Doyle is 6’3″, so that’s only a 2 inch difference. I don’t have career numbers, but from 2005-2016, Doyle was given TWO fighting majors. In fact, in those twelve seasons he only picked up seven major penalties and no misconducts. What I remembered about this game was that despite not being as seasoned a fighter as Dawson (12 fighting majors since 2008), Doyle held his own.

Both were given facemasking and roughing penalties in addition to fighting, and four other fights broke out while the refs were sorting that one out. All of the additional fighters got game misconducts. In all, 23 penalties were handed out and eight players ejected 4:39 into the first quarter.

Oddly, that game also ended with a Rock victory in OT, this time with Garrett Billings scoring the winner. Doyle got the first assist.

3. The Speaker

The Toronto Rock held a Town Hall meeting in December 2012, where they invited season ticket holders to come out to the brand-new TRAC and talk to owner Jamie Dawick, coach Troy Cordingley, GM Terry Sanderson, and several players (Doyle, Billings, Rose). They talked about the state of the team as well as the TRAC, and answered questions from fans on various topics. One thing I remember about this meeting was that Doyle was very well-spoken. There weren’t a lot of “um” and “uh” and filler words like “well, like, ya know” (i.e. he didn’t sound like me on Addicted to Lacrosse). He used to be a teacher and so is obviously comfortable speaking in front of people. Being a pro athlete in general requires some fan interaction and tons of interviews, and being a veteran and team captain means he was used to having the attention of everyone in the Rock and Stealth dressing rooms. Thus it’s not surprising that he’s a great speaker.

2. The Cup

The Rock won their sixth Championship in May 2011. It was also Doyle’s sixth title. Similar to the NHL and other sports, after every Championship-winning game, the league commissioner (George Daniel at the time) would call up the captain of the winning team and present them with the Champion’s Cup. This was Doyle’s first (and only) Championship as team captain, but he declined this traditional honour. Instead, Doyle sent veterans Cam Woods and Kasey Beirnes up to get it. At that time, Woods had played 12 seasons in the NLL and Beirnes 10, and since this was their first Championship, Doyle decided that he would give them the honour. That’s class.

Photo credit: Carlos Osorio, Toronto Star

1. The Patriot

During the national anthems, many players bounce around from foot to foot and jump up and down. This has bugged me forever. Some say it’s because they just finished warming up and they’re trying to stay loose, but that’s a crock – right after the anthems, most of them go and sit on the bench. Nobody ever jumps around behind the bench trying to stay loose. I’ve also heard that they’re so full of adrenaline and ready to play that they can’t stand still, and I can buy that. But not everybody does this. Many years ago I noticed that Colin Doyle stands completely still during the anthems. Even better, he looks at the Canadian flag and sings along with O Canada (or at least mouths the words). Every game. Respect.


Honourable mentions

  • It didn’t happen in the NLL so I didn’t include it above but I can’t leave it out entirely. When Six Nations Chiefs goalies Brandon Miller and Evan Kirk were both ejected for using illegal equipment during a Mann Cup game in 2013, someone had to step up and strap on the pads. Doyle told the team’s defenders that they were all needed on the floor, so he’d do it, and he did. He played 11 minutes and made 6 saves on 9 shots. Question: This article says that Doyle had to put on his teammates’ soaking wet equipment, but wasn’t Miller’s and Kirk’s equipment illegal?
  • Doyle is known far and wide as a clutch player. Since I know a thing or two about clutch players, I took a look at his Money Baller numbers. I only have these going back to 2005, but Doyle is #10 in those 12 seasons combined (though he only played 1 game in 2015). He’s #5 in the playoffs.
  • I remember paying close attention to Doyle’s first game as a member of the Stealth. It wasn’t that I wanted him to fail, but I didn’t like the trade and so I guess I figured that if he didn’t do well in San Jose, it would somehow make the trade less bad. His first game was decent but not spectacular: a goal and three assists. His next game? Nine assists. The one after that? A goal and seven assists. He ended up with 81 points that season, 88 the next, and 111 in 2009. Safe to say he did well in San Jose. (For the record, that year I became, and remain, a big fan of Ryan Benesch, the guy the Rock received in the Doyle trade.)

Trades revisited: an exercise in hindsight

There was a conversation on the IL Indoor message boards recently about Chris Corbeil and how he was traded to the Rush from the Buffalo Bandits. A Bandits fan was unhappy that Corbeil is now the captain of the reigning champs, while the Bandits got draft picks in return. I looked it up and found that the Bandits didn’t get quite as screwed as it might seem. That was fun so I thought I’d look up a few other trades from a few years ago. Now that we know which players played well, which were busts, and which players were drafted with the picks that were exchanged, we can see how they ended up working out.

I just randomly picked a bunch of trades that involved draft picks. This was not planned, but all but one of these trades involved the Edmonton Rush.

Chris Corbeil for picks

September 9, 2011: The Bandits sent Chris Corbeil to the Rush for a 2nd round pick in 2011 and a 1st round pick in 2012.

Chris Corbeil, hopefully in MovemberFour years after this trade, Corbeil is one of the premiere defenders in the league and as stated above, the captain of the defending champions. Did the Bandits get fleeced? Not at all, as it turned out. The second round pick in 2011 turned out to be Jeremy Thompson, but the Bandits traded the first round pick (3rd overall) to Minnesota who used it to draft Kiel Matisz. In return, the Bandits got Brendan Doran, Shawn Williams, the 5th overall pick, and two later picks. The Bandits drafted Dhane Smith and Carter Bender and traded the other pick to the Rock for Glen Bryan and Jamie Rooney. Doran never played for the Bandits and Bender scored 3 points in 3 games. But Bryan, Rooney, and Williams each played two seasons in Buffalo and Dhane Smith is one of the Bandits top offensive weapons.

Thompson played in 14 games for the Bandits in 2012, scored 9 points, won 46% of 140 face-offs, and was traded to the Rush a year later (see below).

Winner: Corbeil vs. Dhane Smith, two years of Williams, Bryan, and Rooney plus a year of Jeremy Thompson? Calling it for Buffalo.

Jeff Cornwall for picks

February 10, 2012: The Bandits sent Jeff Cornwall to the Rush for a 2nd round pick in 2012 and a 2nd round pick in 2014.

The second round pick that the Bandits got in 2012 was Jordan Critch, who scored five points in five games in 2013 and hasn’t played in the NLL since. The 2014 pick got complicated. In July 2013, the Bandits traded that pick, a second round pick in 2013, and Carter Bender to Colorado for Rory Smith and a 4th rounder in 2015 (Tim Edwards). Colorado ended up trading the pick to Calgary for Jackson Decker, and Calgary drafted Tyson Roe.

The end result for the Bandits: they gave up Jeff Cornwall for 5 games from Critch, a season of Rory Smith, and Tim Edwards. Rory Smith was later sent to the Stealth along with Eric Penney for Nick Weiss and even more draft picks, but that’s as far as I think I want to go with this one.

Winner: Hard to determine since the picks got pretty complicated but I’d go with Edmonton.

Anthony Cosmo for picks

February 16, 2012: The Swarm sent Anthony Cosmo to the Bandits for 1st round picks in 2013 and 2014.

Anthony Cosmo was picked up by the Swarm in the Boston Blazers dispersal draft despite the fact that he told them he wouldn’t play for them. He was true to his word and didn’t play, but they held onto him for part of the 2012 season until the Bandits came calling. The Swarm love those first round draft picks and Buffalo offered some, so Cosmo was sent east. In 2013, their pick from Buffalo turned into the first overall pick, which became Logan Schuss. In 2014, it was #5, Shane MacDonald. Schuss scored 104 points for the Swarm in a year and a half before being traded to Vancouver for Johnny Powless, while MacDonald scored 13 points in 11 games last season and has since been traded to New England for Drew Petkoff.

Winner: Cosmo vs. Schuss + Powless. Another tough call but I have to give this one to the Bandits.

Cousins for Williams

July 25, 2011: The Rush sent Ryan Cousins, Andy Secore, and Alex Kedoh Hill to Rochester for Shawn Williams, Aaron Bold, and a 2nd round pick in 2012.

Shawn WilliamsThe second round pick that the Rush received was traded to the Stealth along with Athan Iannucci for Paul Rabil and a first rounder. The Stealth drafted Justin Pychel with that pick, while the Rush picked Mark Matthews. The Rush later traded Rabil to the Knighthawks for Jarrett Davis. The Knighthawks sent Rabil (and others including Jordan Hall) to the Wings for Paul and Dan Dawson.

Cousins played 10 games for the Knighthawks before retiring. Secore never played again, while Hill played 5 games with the Knighthawks before being sent to the Bandits. Shawn Williams played one season in Edmonton before being sent to Buffalo via Minnesota. Aaron Bold, I believe, is still with the Rush.

Winner: From this trade, the Rush ended up with Aaron Bold and a season of Shawn Williams. Add in the Iannucci deal (below) and the draft pick turned into Mark Matthews. I’d call Edmonton the clear winners here.

Thompson for Wilson

November 14, 2012: The Bandits just love sending players to the Rush. This time, it’s Jeremy Thompson for Aaron Wilson and a 2nd round pick in 2013.

The second round pick was Nick Diachenko, who never played for the Bandits but was picked up as a free agent by the Rock. Thompson is one of the best transition players in the game. Aaron Wilson scored 59 points in a year and a half with the Bandits before being sent to the Knighthawks. He only played 4 games last year and retired in the off-season.

Winner: Rush again but the Bandits did OK here.

Merrill for Nooch

August 9, 2011: The Rush sent Brodie Merrill, Mike McLellan, Dean Hill, the 41st overall pick in 2011, and a 4th round in 2013 to the Wings for Athan Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie MacDonald, and 1st round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Athan Iannucci

This was one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the last decade. Merrill had already been named Defender of the Year once and Transition Player of the Year twice, while Iannucci set the single-season goal-scoring record. Not only does his record of 71 still stand, only four people have come within 20 goals of that number in the 7 seasons since.

The picks involved: The 2011 pick ended up in Buffalo (not sure how it got there), who drafted Dwight Bero. The Wings got goalie Don Alton in 2013. Edmonton’s 2012 first rounder went to Buffalo (for Chris Corbeil – see above) and then Minnesota (for the Dhane Smith pick and Shawn Williams – see above) who turned it into Kiel Matisz. The 2013 first rounder was Robert Church. The 2014 pick was sent to the Swarm with Brodie MacDonald for Tyler Carlson, the first overall pick in 2014 (Ben McIntosh) and a second-rounder in 2015 (Dan Taylor).

Merrill had three very good seasons with the Wings before being traded to the Rock. McLellan scored 7 points in 11 games with the Wings in 2013 and hasn’t played in the NLL since. Dean Hill never played with the Wings, but played 40+ games with the Stealth, Mammoth, and Swarm before retiring this past off-season. Alton played one minute in one game, got scored on, and retired with a career GAA of 60.00.

Edmonton’s picks turned into Corbeil, Church, and Tyler Carlson, all of whom are still on the Rush. Alex Turner scored 25 points in two seasons before being traded to the Swarm for a draft pick (later traded to Calgary for Matthew Dinsdale). After scoring 71 in 2008, Nooch never again got within forty goals of that record. He blew out his knee after the 2008 season and hasn’t been the same player since, never scoring more than 29 goals in any season. He refused to report to the Rush and was traded to the Stealth for Paul Rabil and a first rounder, which turned into Mark Matthews.

Winner: Edmonton by a landslide.

The end result from all this analysis: Derek Keenan (who was the Edmonton GM for all of these deals) is pretty good at his job.

Shoutout to John Hoffman (@Corporal763) for his awesome site, which contains unbelievable detail about every NLL draft.

5 things you never knew about the NLL! #3 will shock you

I originally started this article as a joke, playing on the popularity of sites like Buzzfeed and their click-baity “you won’t believe what happened next”-type headlines. But then I wondered if I could come up with 5 actual things that many NLL fans didn’t know and I hadn’t used on @NLLFactOfTheDay (and that I don’t have to fit into 140 characters). Many people know that John Tavares the (former) lacrosse player is the uncle of John Tavares the hockey player. Many know that Josh Sanderson played for his father Terry (four times, actually: Rochester, Calgary, and Toronto twice). Many know that there are far more failed NLL teams than there are current teams.

But did you know these?

1. Before they secured, the league’s website was (OK, I could have squeezed that one into a tweet.)

Gary Roberts

2. The Calgary Roughnecks once drafted former Calgary Flames star Gary Roberts (after he had retired from hockey). He said he was flattered and surprised, but did not report. The Bandits once drafted Gil Nieuwendyk, Joe’s brother and Derek Keenan’s brother-in-law. He never reported either.

3. The 2007 Championship final was hosted by the Arizona Sting rather than the top seed Rochester Knighthawks because of arena unavailability. A circus had booked the Blue Cross Arena and no alternative arena in Rochester could be found. A 2002 playoff game between the 5th place Washington Power and the 6th place Philadelphia Wings was held in Philadelphia because Washington decided they’d lose more money by hosting it than by travelling.

4. In 2001, the league accidentally posted an article on its web site announcing expansion to Montreal before the deal was actually done. The article was immediately pulled and the deal was put on hold. The Montreal Express joined the league a year later.

5. In 2007, the Arizona Sting went on hiatus and the players were loaned to other teams for a year (through a dispersal draft), the idea being that when Arizona returned the next season, they’d continue with the team they had before. After the 2008 season, the players were returned to the Sting, where the team promptly folded and they were dispersed again.

Did I fool you? One of those five is not true; I made it up. But which one?

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


Stokes, Keith. (2015) Colonial Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from

Edwards, Lissa. (2010) Deadly Lacrosse Game in Mackinac Straits at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763. Retrieved from

Ojibwa. (2011) Lacrosse at Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2015) Fort Michilimackinac. Retrieved from