Six degrees of Kevin Buchanan

A recent conversation about how small the lacrosse world is got me thinking, and I came up with a fun game which I call “Six degrees of Kevin Buchanan”.

The idea is to pick two players A and B, and make a chain of players starting from A and ending with B. Every player in the chain must have played on the same team at the same time as the player before and after him. Unlike the Kevin Bacon game, you don’t actually have to include Kevin Buchanan – if that was the case, I might have picked Mat Giles (12 NLL teams) or Chris Panos (10) rather than Buchanan (5). But their names don’t sound nearly as much like “Kevin Bacon”.

I’ve stretched the rules a touch: if two players played for the same team in the same season, I’m calling that a link. This is only because I don’t have sufficiently accurate data so in some cases (anything before 2005) I don’t know if they actually both played on the same team at the same time – for all I know, one might have been traded for the other in a mid-season deal.

As an example, let’s pick the player with the coolest name in NLL history: Mikko Red Arrow, who played with the New York Saints from 1993 to 1996. We’ll try and match him up with one of the youngest players in the league, Rob Hellyer.

Mikko Red Arrow –> Rob Hellyer

  1. Mikko Red Arrow played with Pat O’Toole on the New York Saints in 1995.
  2. O’Toole played with Josh Sanderson on the Knighthawks in 1999.
  3. Sanderson has played with Rob Hellyer on the Rock from 2012-2015.

So Hellyer is three links away from Red Arrow.

Let’s go back even further, to 1992 and another player with a cool name, Butch Marino. I had never heard of him before this exercise, and picked him at random. He played from 1992-1994 and again in 1996. The target this time is another young player picked at random, Miles Thompson of the Swarm.

Butch Marino –> Miles Thompson

  1. Butch Marino played with Chris Gill on the Baltimore Thunder in 1996.
  2. Gill played with Colin Doyle on the Toronto Rock from 1999-2001.
  3. Doyle played with Ethan O’Connor on the Rock in 2014.
  4. O’Connor plays with Miles Thompson on the Swarm in 2015.

Thompson is four links away from Marino. Note that this is the shortest list I found while just looking over team lists and going by memory. There may be shorter ones.

Here’s one more, starting from Brian Lemon, the current NLL VP of Lacrosse Operations. Let’s try and link him to Edmonton goalie Aaron Bold.

Brian Lemon –> Aaron Bold

  1. Brian Lemon played with Kevin Finneran on the 1992 Detroit Turbos.
  2. Finneran played with Dave Stilley on the 2002 Philadelphia Wings.
  3. Stilley played with Gavin Prout on the 2006 Mammoth.
  4. Prout played with Corey Small on the 2010 Rush.
  5. Small played with Aaron Bold on the 2013 Rush.

So Bold is five links away from Lemon. But there’s a faster way:

  1. Brian Lemon played with Randy Mearns on the 1995 Knighthawks.
  2. Mearns played with John Tavares on the 1993 Bandits.
  3. Tavares played with Jeremy Thompson on the 2012 Bandits.
  4. Thompson has played with Aaron Bold on the Rush since 2013.

Of course, anyone who’s ever played for the Bandits is at most 2 links away from anyone else who’s ever played for the Bandits, since they both played with John Tavares. In addition to JT, there are players like Shawn Williams, Colin Doyle, and Josh Sanderson who have had very long careers with multiple teams and allow you to jump 10-15 years in one step. Thanks to guys like them, I’d be surprised if anyone who’s ever played in the NLL is more than five links away from anyone else. In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a player who has never played with a former Bandit and given Mr. Tavares’s longevity, I imagine that finding two players with a count no lower than five is almost impossible.

Hey Kevin, what do you think of this game?

Any other pairs of players you want linked? Do you know of shorter chains than the ones I have above? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter!

The Wings fly away, Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at how great the Philadelphia Wings were from 1987 until their 2001 Championship. And make no mistake, they were great. Then I asked how a team as successful as the Wings could possibly fold or move.

To answer that, we need to realize that all of the great numbers I mentioned in that article were only for the first half (well, about 57% to be accurate) of the Wings tenure in Philadelphia. To say the rest of their tenure (2002-2014) was less successful would be quite the understatement.

Instead of being 42 games over .500, they were 30 games under at 82-112. They allowed 161 more goals than they scored. In 12 seasons, they made the playoffs three times (losing all three games) and finished over .500 only once. Their last playoff win will forever remain that 2001 Championship, thirteen seasons ago.

Things got so bad for the Wings that even the loyal fans started to abandon them. In the years following their sixth Championship, attendance dropped, rebounded again, and then dropped again. In 2005, it dropped over 14%, falling below 12,000 for the first time since their 1987 debut. 2008 saw a little rebound once again but after that it dropped between 5 and 10% every year. In the last fourteen years of the team’s existence (starting the year before their last Championship), the Wings reported year-over-year attendance increases only three times.

In 2014, their final year in the league, the Wings averaged a paltry 6,864 fans per game. Only the Vancouver Stealth drew fewer. If your attendance is being compared to that of the Stealth (whether Vancouver, Washington, or San Jose), you’re in trouble.

WingsAttendance

It’s not that ownership didn’t try. The Wings had more rebuilds than Joan Rivers’ face. After Marechek, Bergey, and Ratcliffe it was supposed to be Sean Greenhalgh, Athan Iannucci, and Merrick Thomson. But Greenhalgh was sent to Buffalo, concussions ended Thomson’s career early, and Nooch missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. Kyle Wailes scored 50+ points in 2009 and 2010 and never played again. The Dan Dawson experiment got them to the playoffs but no further than the first round before he was off to Rochester. Brodie Merrill has played well since coming to the Wings in 2012 but the price for landing him was steep – Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and three first round draft picks, one of which won’t happen until this coming fall.

They tried having a morning game on a Friday. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision and they were trying to draw school trips (as it was advertised) or if it was required because of arena availability. It ended up as a dismal failure, drawing the lowest crowd (5139) in Wings history. They tried putting the players’ Twitter handles on their uniforms to draw attention. It did, but not from anyone outside of the lacrosse world, or at least not for more than a few seconds.

They tried rebranding themselves as “America’s team”, drafting and signing lots of American-born players. Most of these guys were field players who had played very little or no indoor lacrosse, and this strategy had varying degrees of success. Some guys like Drew Westervelt took to the game and became strong indoor players, while others like Ned Crotty never saw the same level of success indoors that they had seen outdoors. In 2014, this plan was further scuttled by a number of players including Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Brendan Mundorf bailing on the team sitting out the season to prepare for the World Field Championships.

Can we find someone to blame for the failure of the Wings? Ownership? Players? Fans? Is there really so much competition for your entertainment dollar in Philadelphia that the Wings can no longer compete? Well, when you only play 3 playoff games in twelve years (and lose them all), it’s hard to convince people to continue paying money to watch your team (unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re a huge anomaly in the world of sports). You obviously can’t blame the fans who kept going to games, and considering the lack of on-floor success over the last twelve years, it’s also pretty tough to blame the ones who stopped.

If we must blame someone, I suppose it’ll have to be ownership, since they’re the top of the food chain and therefore ultimately responsible. But playing the blame game really doesn’t buy us anything. It doesn’t bring the Wings back, and it doesn’t make losing them any easier for fans of the league, least of all the Philly fans.

The Philadelphia Wings were the cornerstone of the NLL for half of its existence. They were so good for so long and were as close to being a solid fixture in a city’s sports scene as the NLL has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that we now have to add Philadelphia to the long list of cities in which the NLL ultimately failed.

The Wings fly away, Pt. 1

Wings

The 2015 NLL season will not include the Philadelphia Wings. For longtime fans of the league, this is unfathomable. It’s the NHL without the Leafs or Canadiens. It’s the American League without the Yankees. It’s the NFL without the Packers. After 28 seasons, the franchise is moving, though we don’t yet know where. It’s possible that they’ll find a new home fairly close to their old one but even if they do, it won’t be the same.

Starting in 1987, they were outstanding. In their first sixteen seasons, they missed the playoffs once, finished under .500 only three times, and appeared in nine Championship finals, winning six of them. They won 100 games while only losing 58, and they scored 316 more goals than they allowed. They had future Hall-of-Famers all over the place: Gary and Paul Gait, Tom Marechek, Tony Resch, Dallas Eliuk, and owners Mike French, Russ Cline, and Chris Fritz. In 2001 they won their sixth Championship, the same number (at the time) as the Rock, Bandits, and Knighthawks combined.

The Wings had arguably the most loyal fans in the league. In 1987, the league’s inaugural season, their average attendance was 10,972 when the other three teams in the league had averages under 8,000. Their average attendance increased each of the next four years, and stayed above 13,000 for sixteen straight seasons from 1989 to 2004.

So how is it possible that a team that successful could ever fold or move? We’ll get into that in part 2.

Gavin Prout – the Knighthawk?

Gavin Prout spent two seasons in New York and then six in Colorado, the last five as captain of the Mammoth, averaging 84 points per season. So it was a bit of a shock in Colorado, and throughout the NLL world, when he was traded in 2009 to the Edmonton Rush. He played with the Rush for the 2010 season and about half of 2011 before being traded back to the Mammoth. But something that many people, myself included until recently, don’t remember about Prout being traded from the Mammoth to the Rush was that it never happened.

What could have beenProut, along with Andrew Potter, was traded from the Mammoth to the Rochester Knighthawks in 2009 for Ilija Gajic (some draft picks were involved as well). Potter had been sent to the Mammoth from the Knighthawks the previous year in the deal that brought Gary Gait out of retirement. Interesting that a guy that played all of five games in his NLL career was involved in two such significant trades. Anyway, two weeks later, the Knighthawks sent Prout and Dean Hill to the Rush for a first round draft pick. But the fact that Prout was a Knighthawk for a couple of off-season weeks is usually forgotten.

A number of other players also spend time on teams for which they never played. Here are just a few:

After the Boston Blazers folded, Anthony Cosmo and Josh Sanderson were both selected in the dispersal draft by the Minnesota Swarm. Before the first round of the draft had even ended, Sanderson had been traded to the Rock, while Cosmo sat out half of the next season before being traded to the Bandits.

Shawn Williams is another player who, like Sanderson, can measure the amount of time he spent on the Minnesota roster with a stopwatch. In July 2012, Williams was traded from the Rush to the Swarm for two second-round draft picks. The same day, he was sent off with Brendan Doran as well as the #5 overall pick in the 2012 draft and two other 2012 draft picks to Buffalo for the #3 overall pick. That seems to me like an expensive way to move up two positions – and in fact, it really only moved the Swarm up one position since they went from having picks #2, 4, and 5 to having picks #2, 3, and 4.

Paul Rabil might be the only player to have joined two separate organizations consecutively and never play for either of them. But this story begins six months before Rabil got involved. In the summer of 2011, the Wings traded Athan Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie MacDonald, and three first round draft picks to the Rush for Brodie Merrill, Dean Hill, Mike McLellan, and a couple of later draft picks. Nooch never signed with the Rush, and a month into the 2012 season, he was traded to the Stealth for Paul Rabil. Rabil also refused to sign with the Rush and sat out the rest of the 2012 season.

Almost a year after the original Iannucci trade, the Rush sent Rabil to the Knighthawks for Jarrett Davis, but Rabil never reported to Rochester either. Only a couple of weeks before the 2013 season began, he was sent to Philadelphia along with Jordan Hall, Joel White, and Robbie Campbell in exchange for Dan Dawson, Paul Dawson, and a first round draft pick. Rabil is now happy in Philadelphia, and I’m pretty sure the Knighthawks were OK with what they got out of the deal.

But not every player was traded to a team they never played for. Here are some players who were drafted by teams they never played for:

  • Ilija Gajic, Rochester, 2009
  • Joel Dalgarno, Toronto, 2009
  • Craig Point, Boston, 2007
  • Ryan Benesch, San Jose, 2006
  • Blaine Manning, Calgary, 2001
  • Geoff Snider, Vancouver, 2001 (he opted to return to university and was drafted again by the Wings in 2006)
  • Tom Marechek, Buffalo, 1992
  • John Tavares, Detroit, 1991 (and not until the third round!)

I’m sure there are plenty of others. Leave a comment if I missed any!

The top 10 one-team NLL players

Last week, Down Goes Brown did a post (actually on Grantland.com) called The 10 Greatest One-Team NHL Players. Since DGB is unlikely to cover lacrosse anytime soon, I decided to do it myself. Given that there are fewer teams in the NLL, the history is much shorter, and there has been far more team movement than the NHL, there really aren’t all that many such players. If we restrict ourselves to players with more than 50 games in their NLL careers, all with a single team, we find that there are only 54 of them. But there are still some pretty good names on this list.

Incidentally, DGB is one of the funniest sports blogs anywhere. If you’re a hockey fan, I strongly recommend it.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 players who spent their entire NLL careers with one team. The number of games listed includes playoff games. I’m restricting the number of games played to 100 or more, since it’s not quite fair to put people like Cody Jamieson (54 games) or Garrett Billings (72 games) on this list so early in their careers.

10. Jeremy Hollenbeck, Rochester Knighthawks (127 games)

Jeremy Hollenbeck

Hollenbeck played ten seasons with the Knighthawks, winning a Championship in 1997. In 2011, he was inducted into the Rochester Knighthawks Hall of Fame.

9. Dan Ladouceur, Toronto Rock (150 games)

Dan Ladouceur

In the early 2000’s, Laddy was one of the anchors of the best defense in the NLL, along with guys like Jim Veltman, Glenn Clark, Terry Bullen, and Pat Coyle. He even scored a goal or two here and there (I distinctly remember a breakaway where he ran up the floor frantically looking around for someone to pass to, then buried it himself), including one in the 2002 Championship game. At about 6’6″ he was an imposing figure and a good fighter too (see above, having a chat with Shawn Evans), though I did once see him dropped with one punch. In a 2002 fight in Toronto, Matt Green hit him with a shot to the jaw that knocked him unconscious.

I have heard rumours that the Rock were not allowed to trade Ladouceur because of his job as a Durham Regional police officer (I believe he’s on the SWAT team), but I confirmed with Laddy himself that it’s not true. He said they could have traded him at any time but they were a classy organization and worked with him.

8. Peter Jacobs, Philadelphia Wings (158 games)

Peter Jacobs

As good a face-off guy as Geoff Snider is, he’s only matched Peter Jacobs’ high of 318 face-off wins in a season once. (The all-time record is 319 by Bob Snider in 2012.) Jacobs is also the only person not named Snider to ever have a face-off percentage above 70% for a season. Jacobs played 12 seasons for the Wings, winning just shy of 60% of almost 3,000 face-offs. He didn’t finish a single one of those seasons with a percentage below 50%.

7. Jake Bergey, Philadelphia Wings (142 games)

Jake Bergey

Bergey played ten seasons in Philly and won two Championships. He scored 50+ points six times, including 86 in 14 games in 2001. He’s currently second all-time in Wings goals, assists, and points.

In the 2007 expansion draft, he was chosen by the Boston Blazers, but was traded back to Philly before the season started. Then the Blazers sat out the 2008 season so there was another expansion draft. Bergey was chosen by Boston again, and again was traded back to the Wings. He has to be one of the few players who played for a single team his entire career and yet was traded twice.

6. Andrew McBride, Calgary Roughnecks (185 games)

Andrew McBride

McBride has played 11 seasons in Calgary, and has been the captain since Tracey Kelusky was traded after the 2010 season. He’s a defender, transition player, a fighter, an outstanding team leader, and you’ll never hear a more well-spoken guy during an interview. And when is Movember time of year, he is look like Borat.

5. Rich Kilgour, Buffalo Bandits (225 games)

Rich Kilgour

Darris’ big brother was captain of the Bandits for 12 years, won four championships, had his number retired by the Bandits and is in the NLL Hall of Fame. Only one player personifies the Bandits better than Richie Kilgour and, well, we’ll get to him later.

4. Regy Thorpe, Rochester Knighthawks (217 games)

Regy Thorpe

Regy Thorpe was a big tough defender who played an amazing fifteen seasons with the Knighthawks, beginning in 1995, the team’s first season in the league. He won two Championships and was captain of the 2007 Championship team. But most interestingly, he was the first player-GM in NLL history when he took the reins of the team and played in the 2009 season. His tenure as a GM only lasted one season before owner Curt Styres took over, but much to the chagrin of NLL scorers, Thorpe played one more season before retiring in 2010.

3. Blaine Manning, Toronto Rock (199 games)

Blaine Manning

Blaine Manning had a pretty successful start to his NLL career, winning championships in 3 of his first 4 seasons (2002, 2003, 2005) with the Toronto Rock. It kind of went downhill after that for a couple of years, but after The Rock GM Who Must Not Be Named was fired and Terry Sanderson was brought back, Manning was a big part of the rebuilding process that resulted in the 2011 NLL Championship. Long before Dan Dawson arrived in Boston, Manning was one of the original Big Three along with Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson in Toronto. They peaked in 2005 when Doyle finished first overall in scoring, Manning tied with John Grant for second, and Sanderson tied with John Tavares for third – and all five of them finished with over 100 points.

I went on and on about Manning in an article right after he retired, so I won’t rehash all his stats here. Suffice it to say that Manning should be a lock for the NLL Hall of Fame once he is eligible.

2. Tom Marechek, Philadelphia Wings (161 games)

Tom Marechek

Tom “Hollywood” Marechek won four championships in 12 NLL seasons and was inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame in 2007. Marechek is the all-time Wings leader in both goals and assists, and is 8th all-time in the league in goals. But of the top goal-scorers in league history, only one player in the top 10 (and two in the top 25) have played fewer games than Marechek. The only players who averaged more goals per game than Marechek are Gary Gait, Paul Gait, John Grant, and John Tavares. Not bad company.

Hard to believe he’s only the third-best lacrosse player from Victoria, BC.

1. John Tavares, Buffalo Bandits (313 games)

John Tavares

No-brainer. Tavares is one of the best players ever to play in the NLL (many argue he is the best), and after 22 seasons with the Buffalo Bandits, there’s no argument who’s at the top of this list. Or most lists, for that matter.

Tavares owns pretty much every offensive NLL record, most of them by a mile. As of the end of the 2013 season, he has 778 career goals, ahead of second-place Gary Gait by 130 and ahead of third-place (and the closest still active player) John Grant by over 200. He has 887 assists, 108 more than Colin Doyle. He has 1665 points; if he retired today, second place Doyle couldn’t catch him even with four more 100 point seasons. He’s scored an amazing 5.95 points per game over his career, second only to John Grant’s 6.37. (Technically he’s also behind a guy named Gary Edmands with a career average of 6 – he scored 6 points in his only NLL game with the Bandits in 1996.)

Since Tavares is still active, the amazing numbers will just continue to climb.

Honourable mentions

  • Billy Dee Smith, Buffalo Bandits, 149 games
  • Pat McCabe, New York Saints, 119 games
  • Mike Carnegie, Calgary Roughnecks, 105 games
  • Kyle Sorensen, San Jose / Washington Stealth, 105 games (I know, two different teams but they’re the same franchise so it counts.)

Just under the radar

These guys didn’t quite make the 100 game limit, but I wanted to acknowledge them anyway.

  • Devan Wray, Calgary Roughnecks, 99 games
  • Jeff Zywicki, San Jose / Washington Stealth, 99 games
  • Sal LoCascio, New York Saints, 95 games

Careers cut short

Again this year, the NLL has been hit by the worst kind of injury bug – the one that takes a player out of the league permanently. It’s been almost two months since Knighthawks defender Ryan Cousins was forced to retire due to persistent injuries. Cousins is a former two-time Defender of the Year and was captain of the Minnesota Swarm for seven years. Now, he also played in the league for eleven seasons so it’s not like his career was cut short after only a few years, but at 31, he could easily have played 5 or 6 more years and possibly more than that.

As an aside, while looking for details on Cousins’ retirement, I came across this article by Rochester fan (and NLL employee) Alex Hinkley and was stunned to read that Hinkley believes Cousins should not have retired. Cousins makes what is likely one of the most difficult decisions of his life and Hinkley has the gall to say he shouldn’t have retired? Yes, he was injured last year and came back to play, but he says himself that he had yet another injury before this season began. Normally when a player retires due to injury, it’s not because he can’t be bothered to do the work required to get back in shape, it’s because their doctor has told them that any further injuries could do irreparable damage. Cousins might have decided that playing one more year of lacrosse wasn’t worth spending the rest of his life walking with a cane. It’s possible, even likely, that Cousins may come to regret retiring. But I think it’s more likely that Cousins, along with his family and doctor, decided that he’d much rather retire and wish he hadn’t than not retire and wish he had.

Ryan CousinsCousins wasn’t the only player who retired this season because of injury. Dan Carey, also 31, announced his retirement just before the season began after suffering a concussion near the end of the 2012 season. Carey also missed half of 2009 and all of 2010 due to concussion. Phil Sanderson, another concussion victim on the Rock, hasn’t officially retired, but he missed the last two games of 2012 plus the playoffs and has yet to play in 2013.

If you go over the list of NLL players who have had to retire early due to injuries, a few pretty big names show up:

  • Merrick Thomson accumulated 124 points in two seasons with the Wings (and was an MLL star as well) before concussions ended his very promising career in 2011 at the age of only 27.
  • Ken Montour, the 2009 NLL goaltender of the year, experienced a concussion during a game in 2010 (also at age 31) and never played again. Montour (as well as Thomson and Tracey Kelusky) talks about his experiences in a must-read interview with IL Indoor’s Stephen Stamp from back in 2011.
  • Paul Gait retired after the 2002 season (during which he scored 114 points, the third highest total ever) at the age of 35 due to knee injuries. We’ll ignore the four games he played with the Mammoth in 2005. His twin brother Gary played 3 more full seasons with the Mammoth before retiring, and then unretired in 2009, played 24 more games with the Knighthawks, then retired again.
  • Mark Miyashita was the first overall draft pick of the Vancouver Ravens in 2003 but only played 46 games over 5 seasons with Vancouver, Colorado, and Minnesota before multiple ACL injuries forced him to retire.

The quintessential example of an athlete forced to retire early because of injuries is Bobby Orr. Orr, considered by some as a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky, played nine full seasons in the NHL and then parts of three more before retiring at age 30 because of repeated damage to his knees. Now Sidney Crosby is in danger of being added to this list, having missed much of the last couple of seasons due to a couple of serious concussions. Last week, he was hit in the head with a puck, breaking his jaw. He’s reporting no concussion symptoms from that, but we all know that if he suffers one more concussion, his career is likely over. Crosby won’t even be 26 until this summer.

There has been a lot of research and a lot more discussion on head injuries in sports in recent years, which will hopefully reduce the number of concussions and early retirements. But due to the nature of sports, particularly contact sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse, you will never completely eliminate the possibility. It’s something the athletes know and a risk they’ve accepted. When you see a freak accident like the one that ended Andrew Suitor’s 2013 season, you start to appreciate the ability of players like Colin Doyle, Shawn Williams, and John Tavares to be able to play for so long. How do they do it? There’s some conditioning involved – being in top physical shape can help you avoid some injuries and recover more easily from others. Being a smart player, and therefore being able to avoid situations that could result in injury, is another advantage these guys have. But Suitor is also a professional athlete, in top shape, and is unquestionably a smart lacrosse player.

Sometimes, as they say, shit happens. Part of the “secret” to a long playing career is just to be lucky.


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First round draft choices

The annual entry draft is one of the biggest days in the NLL off-season. Obviously each team is trying to improve by drafting players who they hope will contribute to their team for many years, but the fact that all the GMs get together in one place increases the possibility of trades and makes the day that much more interesting.

Drafted players in the NLL can make an immediate and significant contribution to the team that drafts them, much more so than in hockey where drafted players frequently need another year or two of seasoning before they’re ready for the NHL, and especially in baseball where a drafted player may not make the majors for five years or more, if ever. In lacrosse, it’s not unusual for a drafted player to be familiar with many of his teammates and opponents thanks to playing in the summer leagues. I imagine this helps the NLL GMs significantly, since they don’t have to wonder how the player will do against NLL-calibre opponents – they can see first-hand.

Every year, someone is given the honour and/or the curse of being drafted first overall. In this article, I list the last ten first-overall draft picks and with the advantage of hindsight, who the first overall pick should have been. Keep in mind that if the “hindsight pick” isn’t the same as the guy actually chosen first, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the GM screwed up and should have taken someone else. Players don’t always work out as well as was expected. Sometimes the player just didn’t make the transition to the NLL as smoothly as others, sometimes there were work commitments that meant the player had to miss significant time, sometimes there were injuries, and sometimes another player who wasn’t chosen first ended up exceeding the expectations of him.

2011

Kevin CrowleyFirst pick: Kevin Crowley, Philadelphia
Hindsight pick: Too early to say

It’s been said before that 2011 was the strongest draft in years, possibly ever, but here’s something that really drives the point home. Everyone drafted in the top two rounds of the 2011 draft saw playing time in the NLL in 2012. You have to go to the fourth pick of the third round – number 22 overall – before you get to a drafted player who did not play in 2012, that being Washington’s Adam McGourty.

Obviously with only a year behind them, it’s hard to say who’s the best of this amazing bunch. Adam Jones won Rookie of the Year, but Crowley, Jordan MacIntosh, or Evan Kirk easily could have.

Cody Jamieson2010

First pick: Cody Jamieson, Rochester
Hindsight pick: Jamieson or Kyle Rubisch (2nd)

Kyle Rubisch is widely regarded as the best defender in the league, having been chosen as such in 2012 by both the league and IL Indoor. But Cody Jamieson is a legitimate offensive star, and given that he led the Knighthawks to the Champions Cup (and was named Championship Game MVP) in only his second season, you can’t say that the Knighthawks made a mistake drafting him.

2009

Sid SmithFirst pick: Sid Smith, Rochester
Hindsight pick: Garrett Billings (6th), Stephen Leblanc (11th)

Sid Smith is a big, solid defender and like Jamieson, was instrumental in helping the Knighthawks to the 2012 Championship so again it’s kind of hard to say the Knighthawks made a big mistake here. But as good as Smith is, it’s tough to argue with Leblanc, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, and Billings, the current single-season assists holder and 2012 MVP runner-up, as being better choices.

2008

Daryl VeltmanFirst pick: Daryl Veltman, Boston
Hindsight pick: Rhys Duch (3rd)

Veltman had an excellent rookie season, scoring 77 points for the Blazers in 2009, and followed it up with 65 points in his sophomore season. He was then traded to the Roughnecks in the Josh Sanderson deal, but his 2011 season was not was the Roughnecks expected. Having picked up 43 and 42 assists in his first two seasons, the Roughnecks (and Veltman himself) were a little disappointed with the 42 points Veltman tallied in 2011. He rebounded a little in 2012 with another 42 assists and 62 points, so Veltman isn’t a bust by any definition. But IL Indoor named Rhys Duch the #1 player in the league at the beginning of the 2012 season, and the only reason he was below 85 points this past season (his first such season) was because he missed a couple of games. He ended up with a paltry 79 points in 14 games, which extrapolates to 90 over 16.

2007

Jordan HallFirst pick: Jordan Hall, New York
Hindsight pick: Hall or Dane Dobbie (4th)

Hall has been one of the game’s better transition players since his debut with the New York Titans in 2008, and was given the NLL Sportsmanship Award in 2011. He’s played more of a defensive role in Rochester than he did in New York or Orlando, but was still an important part of the Knighthawks 2012 Championship season – or at least the first 2/3 of that season, before he tore a knee ligament and missed the last 6 games and the playoffs. Was he the best player in that draft year? Probably, though an argument could be made for Calgary’s Dane Dobbie, who only scored 7 points in his 5 games in 2008, but exploded for 75+ points in each of the next three years. He only scored 50 last season, but missed three games due to injury.

2006

Ryan BeneschFirst pick: Ryan Benesch, San Jose
Hindsight pick: Benesch

This year had a great draft class – you could argue for Geoff Snider (4th) over Benesch, and this group also included Kyle Sorensen (2nd), Ian Llord (5th), Paul Dawson (7th), Athan Iannucci (8th) and Brendan Mundorf (11th). Benesch was drafted by the Stealth but was immediately traded to the Rock in the deal that sent Colin Doyle out west. Benny had a great rookie year (58 points and a Rookie of the Year award) but then dropped off a little in his second season, which concluded with his being inexplicably benched for the last two games of the year. After being benched again for the first two games of the 2009 season, Benesch was traded to the Edmonton Rush along with Derek Suddons for draft picks* in one of the most stupidly lopsided trades in Rock history. Benny’s numbers dropped a little more in 2009 before he was traded to the Swarm where he flourished, turning into one of the most potent scorers in the league and winning the scoring title in 2011.

* – One interesting footnote here: The Rock sent Colin Doyle to the Stealth for Ryan Benesch. (There were others involve in the trade, but it was essentially Doyle for Benesch.) When Benesch was traded to Edmonton two years later, one of the draft picks sent from the Rush to the Rock was a first-rounder in 2009. With that pick, the Rock selected Joel Dalgarno, who was later traded to the Stealth along with Tyler Codron and Lewis Ratcliff for – guess who? – Colin Doyle.

2005

Brodie MerrillFirst pick: Brodie Merrill, Portland
Hindsight pick: Merrill

Another good group including Shawn Evans (2nd), Luke Wiles (4th), Matt Vinc (6th), and Jeff Zywicki (8th), but Merrill’s been Rookie of the Year, Defender of the Year, and Transition Player of the Year twice. He makes any team he’s on better, and has been considered one of the best players in the league since his first season.

2004

Delby PowlessFirst pick: Delby Powless, Buffalo
Hindsight pick: Rory Glaves (2nd), Ryan Boyle (3rd)

Powless entered the league with a lot of hype, mainly because he was the first overall pick. But part of the hype was the fact that he is part of the legendary Powless family. He played well, no question, racking up 40+ points in his first four seasons including 55 in 2008. But he never really lived up to what you might expect from the first overall pick, and after a substandard 2009 and only a single game in 2010, Powless was released by the Bandits and hasn’t played in the NLL since.

2003

Mark MiyashitaFirst pick: Mark Miyashita, Vancouver
Hindsight pick: Ryan Ward (3rd), Scott Evans (5th), Scott Ranger (7th)

Miyashita was a defenseman and faceoff guy who played a single season with the Ravens, one season with the Mammoth, and then parts of three seasons with the Swarm before calling it quits due to multiple injuries. Ward, Evans, and Ranger are still legitimate scoring threats and have luckily avoided the injury bug.

2002

Patrick MerrillFirst pick: Patrick Merrill, Toronto
Hindsight pick: Mark Steenhuis (7th)

I like Patrick Merrill. I think he’s a hard worker, a good defender, and a pretty good fighter as well. But Mark Steenhuis is one of the best transition players of the last ten years. At one point I remember saying that there was nobody on the Rock that I wouldn’t trade for Steenhuis. Of course, this was when Doyle was in San Jose and the team was 6-10 while Steenhuis was lighting up the league, so that’s no longer true. But Steenhuis over Merrill is really a no-brainer.


I won’t go through all of the previous years, but a few names stand out as obvious hindsight picks.

  • In 1996, Tim Langton was chosen first overall, while Cory Bomberry was taken third. Langton played three seasons with the New York Saints, while Bomberry played fourteen seasons with Rochester, Arizona, and Buffalo, winning a Championship with the Bandits in 2008.
  • In 1993, John Webster was the first overall pick, taken by the Philadelphia Wings. Webster never played a game in the NLL while the New York Saints’ fourth overall pick, Mark Millon, played 96 games over ten years, ironically finishing his career with the Wings.
  • Jim Buczek was the Pittsburgh Bulls’ first overall choice in 1992. Buczek’s pro career was limited to three games, while the Bandits had the sixth overall pick and drafted some guy named Tom Marechek. Obviously he never made much of an impression on the Bandits, since he was traded to Philadelphia before he ever played a game for Buffalo. He did OK in Philly though, where he won four championships over twelve seasons and is now in the NLL Hall of Fame.

The Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame

My family and I recently travelled to St. Catharine’s, Ontario, for a day of exploring the Welland Canal. This is about a 45-minute drive from where I’ve lived for the past fifteen years, but I had never been there. It wasn’t until we arrived at the Lock 3 visitor’s centre that I realized that the same building also houses the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition to watching 35,000-ton ships over 700 feet long navigate into a passage only two feet wider than themselves, we got to see some pretty cool lacrosse memorabilia and recognize some of the pioneers of lacrosse in Ontario.

Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame

The HoF is part of the St. Catharine’s Museum and is not a big place, but there are a lot of jerseys, sticks, old photographs, and even paintings and sculptures. There is a listing of players who have been inducted into the Ontario Hall, as well as Ontario-based players and builders who have been inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, which is located in New Westminster, BC.

There were a number of pictures of former Mann Cup winning teams from Ontario. There was one from the 1980 Brampton Excelsiors featuring a very young-looking Terry Sanderson. I found one from the 1993 Excelsiors that contained a whole bunch of familiar names: J. Sanderson (turned out to be John, not Josh), T. Cordingley (Ted), D. Teat, J. Grant (Sr.), P. Coyle, K. Dance, another T. Cordingley (that one’s Troy), J. Tavares, B. Shanahan (Brian), S. Dietrich, and P. St. John. Even the list of people who were absent from the picture is impressive: Jim Veltman, Tom Phair, Randy Mearns, Rich Kilgour, Darris Kilgour, Derek Graham. Recognize this kid?

Chugger

Yup, that’s none other than NLL Hall of Famer Steve “Chugger” Dietrich. How about these guys, holding some hardware?

The Shanahans

On the left with the Stanley Cup we have Brendan Shanahan and on the right with the Mann Cup is his big brother, TSN analyst and IL Indoor writer Brian Shanahan. Here’s one more picture, this one of two people whose names still come up frequently when talking about the NLL, even though this is a picture from the mid-90’s. One of them looks almost exactly the same now as he did then, while the other looks a little different:

Troy and JT

The caption reads “Mann’s Best Friends”, and of course this is Troy Cordingley and the ageless John Tavares. They’re both wearing Six Nations Chiefs jerseys (which would put the picture at 1995 or 1996 when they were both won the Mann with the Chiefs), but you can see “Bandits” on Cordingley’s stick.

There were lots of NLL All-Star jerseys hanging up, with lots more names familiar to NLL fans: Doyle, Point, Carey, Tavares. There were also pictures of the so-called “builders” of the game, which generally means GMs and coaches and such. But there were a number of exhibits on the real creators of lacrosse: the First Nations people. They showed how wooden sticks were made, and talked about how they have been playing lacrosse for hundreds of years, how they used it to settle disputes between tribes, how they played on fields that were miles long and had no “out of bounds”, and how they had no limit on the number of players on each team (as long as the numbers were “relatively close”). The thing that really amazed me was that in many cases, the only rule was that you were not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. The only rule. And you thought the game was rough now.

My whole family had a great time visiting the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame, as well as the St. Catharine’s Museum and Lock 3 on the Welland Canal. I was going to make a joke about “maybe someday when they have a Bloggers category, I might return as an inductee” but in all seriousness, even making such a joke makes me feel disrespectful to those players, builders, and pioneers of the game who have legitimately been inducted and celebrated. All of the inductees have my appreciation, my congratulations, and my respect.

The world before John Tavares

The Buffalo Bandits just re-signed John Tavares to a one year contract, ensuring that JT returns for his twenty-second season in the NLL in 2013. The Bandits acquired JT by trading Brian Nikula to the Detroit Turbos in October of 1991. This was before the Bandits had ever played a game in the NLL, so there has never been a Bandits team without Tavares on the roster. What was the world like back then?

  • State of the artOf the current NLL teams, only the Philadelphia Wings were in existence. The Colorado Mammoth franchise existed: the Baltimore Thunder would play eight more years in Baltimore before moving to Pittsburgh for one year, Washington (D.C.) for two years, and then finally Colorado in 2003.
  • The world wide web had not been invented yet. The cell phone pictured here was the state of the art.
  • Freddie Mercury, Audrey Hepburn, Kurt Cobain, and Frank Zappa were still alive.
  • Growing Pains, Who’s The Boss?, The Cosby Show, and Johnny Carson were still on TV.
  • The Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia still existed, George Bush (Sr.) was the US President, and Brian Mulroney was the Canadian Prime Minister.
  • Apartheid was still in effect in South Africa.
  • Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were still playing in the NBA.
  • The San Jose Sharks were playing their first season, as were Nicklas Lidstrom, Adam Foote, and Martin Brodeur.
  • The Buffalo Bills had lost two Super Bowls in a row (something they would later repeat).
  • Tyler Seguin, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, Johnny Powless, and at least two of the writers over at In Lacrosse We Trust were not yet born.