The Best Defensemen In The NLL
Yes, it’s true - the NLL season has been cancelled. It breaks my heart. Trust me, we all want to play, but we are realistic. The NLL is still in it’s building stages of something much bigger. Compared to the NFL, MLB, NBA or the NHL, our league is still young and is still growing. Until there are TV deals and owners are generating the comparable revenues of the ‘Big Four’ we have to think differently and most importantly; more creatively (we will touch on the need for grassroots and digital efforts in a later blog).
Now more than ever, it’s important to remain optimistic. The light is at the end of the tunnel; there are vaccines on the way, Covid-19 numbers are decreasing, and a return to ‘The Nest’ is inevitable.
It’s only a matter of time before we are able to do that. I, for one, can’t wait to be back, at the Nest, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In sports, we use this term all the time, “What’s Next”. Basically, we say that to ‘keep a blue head’ and stay even keel throughout the game. If you’re up by a lot or down by a lot, stay focused and stay on task. Even if it’s one goal for or one goal against. My response is the exact same: ‘What’s Next’. Life is unpredictable, as we all know, so I’d rather stare it in the face and say “What’s Next” then complain about it and feel sorry for myself.
“Listen to the message and not the tone”
What’s the criteria for being one of the best defensive players in the league? Loose balls? Caused Turnovers? Truthfully, I really don’t know what the best criteria is for it. It’s definitely more subjective compared to the offensive players. Matchups put a twist into this too. For example, Jason Noble, an honourable mention on my list and former DPOY. He is a small, fast and a nasty defender. However, he’s not matched up against the big guys, Dan Dawson (now his teammate), Kevin Crowley, Tyler Digby etc…
On the other hand, a bigger guy like a Robert Hope is probably best matched for those guys and not Kyle Jackson, Chase Scanlan or Ryan Lee’s who are all small and fast. So, while writing this, I asked myself, “who do I watch film on the most and why? And, more importantly, what do I look for when I’m watching film? I’m always looking for the little details to improve myself. So why not watch the best defencemen in the game? Here are some of the things I look for: How do they get off picks (tbh, they don’t have too, because guys can’t move them)? How do they play certain offensive players? How do they play guys up top and how do they play guys down low? Who takes the ball away from the best (creates/caused turnovers - cts)? How do they do it? What type of checks do they throw?
Are they giving up body position while they do it? (Rubisch and Kri are some of the best at it. Kri is definitely an honourable mention on this list). When someone is backing them down, how do they play it? Where are their hands? Body angles? etc...Literally right down to every step they take because offensive players in the NLL are so talented they only need: the smallest windows, a slight error in body position, a mental mistake or a miscue with your defensive partner and they’ll make you pay. How? With a goal and you walking to the bench with disbelief. And even worse, watching it on film with your team and your coaches. It’s the worst feeling, but it makes you a better player when you have to watch it with your teammates. My advice - ‘Listen to the message and not the tone’. Well here is it. Without further ado, in no particular order, the best defencemen in the game, in my opinion.
Jake Withers. From the moment Jake entered the league, I knew he was going to be a special player. There were a lot of question marks as to why, at the time, the Rochester Knighthawks didn’t draft current Calgary Roughneck and PLPA President, Zach Currier. His brother, Josh Currier, was already a member of the team too. Seemed like the writing was on the wall. Don’t get me wrong, I think Zach is an unbelievable lacrosse player. However, I agreed with the team - Jake Withers is the real deal. By having Jake, he gave our offence more possessions by dominating the faceoff circle. This means more shots on net from our skilled, offensive players which therefore means more chances to score. I’m sure if you dove into the statistics, they would prove I’m right, and the team made the right choice. Not only is he the top faceoff guy in the league, he plays heavy minutes, shuts down the best offensive players in the game and has a nice scoring touch. On countless occasions, I can recall Jake dominating the game on all aspects of the floor. I remember our first year playing together.
That year, we had turned around a 2-6 season, making it to the finals and losing in Game 3 to the Rush. Jake and I developed some good chemistry. The coaches, Mike Hasen and Pat O’Toole, let us play against the lefty 2man game (I’ll touch on this more next week with the Evolution Of Coaching). Most teams, in the NLL, carried more right handed players on offence which meant the lefties had the 2man game. Obviously, there’s more space on their side of the floor which usually results in more goals or where the offence is generated from. So, at the time, Jake’s a rookie and I’m a third year player, still trying to hang on and prove myself. Our match-ups were Mark Matthews, Ryan Keenan and Playoff MVP, Jeff Shattler. Josh Byrne, Jordan Durston and Mitch Jones from the Bandits, Shayne Jackson, Jesse King, Johnny Powless from the Swarm, just to name a few. He embraced it and flourished from it.
He was so good.
He took pride in it and shut lefties down. That was when he was a rookie, and he’s still improving and developing. Jake is very much overlooked as a defender, but what he brings to the team, is something you can’t put a value on. One of the best locker room guys I’ve been around. He will wear a letter in the league one day. I think this will be his favourite part - he’s more than a fogo (face off, get off), and in my opinion, he’s one of the best defencemen in the game.
Brodie Merrill: I mean, what else is there left to say? His name is ‘The Loose Ball King.’ His accolades speak for itself, but I will add, there aren’t any better leaders in this game. The San Diego Seals ask him to do a lot. I think if the Seals had more depth on defence, he would be able to focus on certain things defensively, but he does get asked to play crazy minutes on the floor. He’s tough and hard to play against. If you’re an offensive player, don’t poke the bear. Put the ball on the other side of the floor and take advantage of him off the ball. Play around him and don’t go at him. You can probably say that about anyone in the league or on this list. Ya, now that I think about it more, don’t go at him. Find other match-ups and attack those.
This is the best thing I’ve picked up from Brodie, currently working for him, and formerly playing with him - at times, you have to find your alter-ego to play this game. The ‘lacrosse world’ is very small. You know almost everyone on other teams. You’ve with them or against them or your friends have, and honestly, I haven’t heard too many bad things about the players in the NLL. They’re all genuine people. However, when Brodie steps on the floor, it’s friends off and game on. That’s what most of the players in the NLL will tell you, I doubt they truly mean it half of the time. Brodie has an impeccable ability to go from Brodie to the greatest transition/defenseman lacrosse player to ever live and play this game with a touch of absolute nastiness every time he gets on the floor. That’s also my way of saying, he’s the GOAT, and I don’t know the name of his alter-ego, nor do I want to...
Chris Corbeil: Captain of the Edmonton/Sask Dynasty. They’re aren’t many better leaders and defencemen in the game. I was lucky enough to learn from him as a young player in Brampton (Major Series Lacrosse Sr. A). He has an unique ability to communicate to you. He was really good at breaking things down and explaining things to the younger players. Basically, he was Reggie Dunlop. That’s the best way to put it. In terms of his skill as a player - he’s so good. Big, strong and athletic. Another one of those players that you don’t want to poke. Don’t give him a reason to get going. His unorthodox hands make it hard to believe he is a dominant transition player in the league, but more often than not he buries breakaway and odd man opportunities (2v1/3v2 etc...). We can all learn a thing or two watching him play. He’s been a dominant player for a long time. The game has been lucky to have him.
Robert Hope: He’s an interesting player. I never heard much about him, but he took the league by storm. When you watch Colorado play, he’s all over the place. Always making an impact, but at the same time, you don’t notice him much because he does everything right and very quietly. Then you look at the box score at the end of the game and see 25+mins, 10+ Lb’s and a few Ct’s. Maybe an apple here and there, but he gets it done. Clearly, he is well respected by his teammates and coaches. Not only in the NLL, but also for Peterborough Lakers Sr. A (Major Series Lacrosse too).
The Peterborough Lakers are a storied franchise in the Ontario Sr. A lacrosse league, and they are stacked with NLL players. A few years ago, when it was time to pick a captain, Robert was selected. The team has plenty of other veterans on the team, but the storied franchise selected him to be captain. There’s something to be said about that. TBH, I don’t even know why they chose him over the other players. So, if I’m a younger player in the league, I would watch and see what he did. Fundamentally, he is sound and never out of position. He kind of has that hunchback thing going on, but that’s usually an indicator that he’s set and good positionally. With that being said, if I’m an offensive player, I’m setting hard picks when someone is dialed into the man they’re defending. More times then not, you’ll be able to create space for the ball carrier, or yourself if the defender jumps to him and leaves you wide open.
Ryan Dilks: Another key member to the Edmonton/Saskatchewan defence. At times, he goes under the radar because of all the talents that surround him. However, if you ask any offensive player in the league, he is not someone you want to go up against. On or off the ball. I would say Ryan and Kyle Rubisch are the best on the list off the ball. They both have a knack for it, but especially Dilks. He has a way of finding the ball in the air. I haven’t seen anyone else pick off the ball more (Joey Cupido, too). Dilks has a way of finding the ball and if he doesn’t get it, he’s always so well positioned defensively that you can’t get around him. He’s a hound - constantly relentless, so move the ball. Stay away from him.
“You have to earn everything when playing against Steve Priolo”
Steve Priolo: ‘Hide yo kids, hide yo wife’ - Steve Priolo is the heavyweight in the league. Most players are probably scared of him. If you’re a lefty and your next game is against Buffalo, you’re probably going to wear extra padding. He is tough to play against, skilled in transition and can lock anyone down. I don’t have much to say about him. He’s just one of those players that you need to be aware of when you’re on the floor. Ultimately, his play speaks for itself - he will make you pay. You have to earn everything when playing against Steve Priolo. Especially running through the middle. Lastly, he also plays like 30+mins a game. He will run up and down the floor 3 to 4 times before coming off. Just when you think you have a shift without him on the floor, he’s back on the floor. And for the cherry on top, he’s probably giving you a chop on the wrist or a crosscheck across the elbow, just as a reminder that he’s still there.
“I’ve never seen a defender take the ball away so easily as Kyle Rubisch.”
Kyle Rubisch: The quiet leader of the Edmonton/Saskatchewan Rush Dynasty. He’s legit. Like Chris, I was lucky to play with him in Brampton too. He was so helpful too. I was a young kid. I just tried to be a sponge and soak everything up. I’ve never seen a defender take the ball away so easily as Kyle Rubisch. For a big man, his footwork is elite. It might be the best in the game, but definitely he has the best pound for pound footwork. Not even close. Every offensive coach says to every lefty in the game, “don’t tuck your stick and run down the wall. He will find you and he will take the ball away from you.” Yes, I also paraphrased Taken, but trust me, it’s like clockwork. He will do it. It’s automatic. Once you turn your stick, and start running down the wall, he’s got you. It’s his infamous one-handed slash and his patent trademark. Nobody does it better. All coaches say to defencemen, “Be two-hand tough. No one-hand on your stick.” But man, he’s so good at it. I’ve tried to replicate it, but I’m not even close to it. He has the speed to track them down and the discipline to never be out of position. An average player, like me, gets caught chasing the stick or isn't fast enough to keep up with an offensive player when they tuck their stick and run down the wall. So for all you lefties out there, I feel for you. And for all the rookies or lefties that haven’t had the opportunity to play against him, good luck. You’ll need it. Lastly, to Kyle (Chris and Sandy Chapman) thank you for taking the time to mentor, teach and lead by example during my time in Brampton. You three were instrumental in my “box lacrosse” development and learning/thinking the game at the pro level. All of you are great players, but better people.
“The great players are obviously some of your better and most likely your best players. However, the elite and the exceptional players make not only themselves better, but they make everyone else around them better too.”
Graeme Hossack: Ha! Yes, I made you read through everyone else, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before we got to the Big Man, Big Hoss (yes, his Russian students refer to him as Big Hoss lol), The Cyborg, Graembo, The Great Graemebino (I just made that up) and I’m sure there’s more. Well, yes, this didn’t take an expert to guess. The 3 time defending Defensive Player of the Year is the real deal. He is a freak of nature. I’ve been lucky enough to play with him too and he does it all. He plays 30+mins a game. He’s developed a significant scoring touch. He’s at a level now that if he needs to take over or give the team a boost, he can do it. It’s of elite legendary status that a defenceman in the NLL can do that. Sure, Cody Jamieson, Lyle Thompson, Curtis Dickson can all do it, but for a defensive player to have the impact on a game as much as he does is insane.
“You Got Hoss’d”
Remember that one clip of Graeme picking up Mark Steenhuis, throwing him to the ground as easy as it would be to throw a toddler, then picked up the ball, ran down the floor and scored? Amazing right? My teammates and I see it almost every practice. That’s just a regular play he makes. And...I hate to admit it, but he did it to me in practice. I was looking back at our goalie, Matt Vinc’s at the time, for an outlet pass. As the ball was in the air, Graeme was running across the floor. He timed it perfectly. He probably could have ended my career but as I caught it, he let up. Even though I was shocked he was right there when I caught it, I had great stick protection from Graeme and help was on the way.
That’s what Graeme does; he lulls you to sleep. He got underneath my arm and then pigeon tossed me so hard onto the ground that I completely lost my breath. I was winded. At this time, I’m still trying to prove myself (and still am), so I tried to get back up as quickly as possible and not show anyone that I was in pain. Luckily, we had just finished the drill, so I don’t think it looked too bad. I’m roughly 230lbs (if ]Accursi asks, I’m a lean 215lbs). So for him to do that, to a guy my size, he can probably do it to anyone in the league. In the end, I’m another victim added to his “You Got Hoss’d” list.
Me, being a righty and Graeme being a lefty we don’t normally find ourselves covering the same side of the floor. However, the odd time, we are on the same side of the floor together, and I am literally a director of traffic. He covers both my man and his man. I just sit in the hole and block the occasional shot. I joke about it all the time, but it’s real. He’s everywhere on the floor and makes everyone else’s job so much easier. I’m sure as I’m writing this, he’s working out.
Earlier this year, Graeme had to quarantine because he was exposed to someone that had COVID-19. Graeme was fine and tested negative. However, the moment he was allowed back or free if you will, he went straight to the gym. I happened to be in there going about my business. He puts 400+lbs on the bar, front squats it 5 times for multiple sets. I couldn’t believe it. He then did nordic hamstring curls with a weighted vest on. I wish I filmed it and could have the link here, but needless to say it was very impressive. Not a break in his back. Flawless. Like no freakin’ wonder he’s the best. Again, success leaves clues. He plays the game and trains the right way.
Michael Jordan talked down towards his teammates and that was his competitive nature. Graeme just hits you in the face and you wake up staring at the stars. That’s right, actions always speak louder than words.
I talked about this last time leading into Lyle’s blurb. The best players in any sport have skill, talent and most importantly are your hardest workers. Think of all the best players from every sport: Sidney Crosby, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Lebron James, and the beloved Kobe Bryant. They all have those traits. The great players are obviously some of your better and most likely your best players. However, the elite and the exceptional players make not only themselves better, but they make everyone else around them better too.
Just like the players mentioned above. Like I said earlier, when he tossed me to the ground, I took that personally, and you don’t forget that. By Graeme playing that hard in practice and constantly challenging those around him, it forces you (me) to elevate your game. Which is a result of everyone getting better. Michael Jordan talked down towards his teammates and that was his competitive nature. Graeme just hits you in the face and you wake up staring at the stars. That’s right, actions always speak louder than words. That’s what Graeme brings to the table. He is one of the truest representations of that. He will be a captain one day, and if he continues to develop and build on his scoring capabilities, then he will win MVP too.
So, that’s it. Those are my thoughts. And again, with this group, just like the offensive players - success leaves clues. Lastly, I will add that Dan Coates, Scott Campbell, Jason Noble, Mike Messenger, Challen Rogers, Adam Bomberry, Brad Kri and Mitch De Snoo all deserve to be on this list too. Heck, Jason Noble is a former DPOY. Also, mental note for me - watch more film on Dan Coates.
Until next time,
Halifax Thunderbirds #45
Best Offensive Players in the NLL | 2/15/21
Hi, my name is Luc Magnan. I’m a defenceman for the Halifax Thunderbirds in the National Lacrosse League. I’ve played in the NLL for 6 years, and I’m grateful to play the Creator’s Game. The game of lacrosse has provided me so many opportunities in my life and this is just another one. Through this platform, I want to give the fans of Halifax, fans of the NLL, current fans of lacrosse and the potential new fans an insight into the game of lacrosse through the lens of a player. I’m going to write on a variety of topics such as: the best offensive players, the best defensive players, how coaching has changed throughout the years, coaches within our league, recruiting, and officiating to name a few. Monday Mornings with Mags will be opinionated. It is my perspective. You don’t have to agree; I will try to be unbiased. Hopefully, this will provide some insight onto a variety of different topics from a current players’ perspective.
The Best Offensive Players in the National Lacrosse League
Firstly, any of these players can be #1. I think it depends on the year, their team’s performance, supporting cast, who has the most points etc...They are all the #1 players on their respective teams, and they all have a combination of elite skills and lacrosse IQ. I bet if you ask any of them, they would all say that they just simply love the game. I mean, most players in the NLL would say that, but go to Lyle Thompson’s Instagram, his stick is in his hands every single day.
Secondly, I listened to Mark Glicini (defenseman for the San Diego Seals): Grateful And Full Of Greatness Podcast. He had Lyle as a Guest Speaker. It was a great conversation and everyone should go and listen to it. Lyle talked about the relationship we have with our sticks. For example: everyone has a different tape job, and everyone likes their shooting strings a certain way. His perspective on the game is insightful and everyone should be taking notes. Lyle talked about the difference between a game and a sport.
This was my favourite takeaway: “At the true core of things, a game is something you do with a joyful intention. Sport is something you do with the intention of dominance or winning, self enhancement.” Have fun and respect the game. Again, success leaves clues and they’re no secrets to it. Put in the time and master your craft. Thirdly, I will say it again, most of my picks are Eastern players. It’s probably because I’ve only played in the Eastern Conference and now the North Division, but I tried to be as unbiased as possible. I can only speak from what I know and what I’ve experienced. Lastly, I don’t think ranking them is fair, but here are, in no particular order, my top offensive players in the NLL.
Success Leaves Clues...
Lyle Thompson: I don’t know him very well or at all really. I just know him because I’ve played against him for many years now. I think what makes the ultimate players are the guys who are gifted with tremendous amounts of talent and skill, but are also the hardest working players on your team. That’s a coach's dream. When you have those three traits in a player, you can build a dynasty and an amazing culture around that player. If your hardest working player is your best player, that is only going to elevate everyone else’s game, and if you don’t elevate your game or compete like Lyle, well - see ya, bud.
That’s what Lyle is. If Lyle ran out the backdoor, I think he could make an argument for being defensive and transition player of the year. He’s so good all over the floor. However, when the ball is in his stick, on the offensive side of the floor, watch out. Being stuck on an island, (1v1 situation) with Lyle, is a nightmare. It’s comparable to how Morgan Rielly felt after McDavid undressed him on home ice (I think we can all remember the clip I’m referring to). Curtis Dickson can make defenders feel that way too. But man, Lyle, he’s so good in isolations. Normally, I pick my poison. When playing defence against Lyle, you just try to manage him. Allow an outside shot and let Warren Hill see the ball. And even then, sometimes, he still gets underneath for a “hump day jump day” highlight reel goal.
The two man game that he runs with Randy is the best in the league and perhaps developing into the best of all time (However, I think Gary and Paul Gait might have something to say about that). I’ll get into that when I talk about Randy, but every offensive player needs a Randy and needs to watch how Randy sets picks. He creates so much space for Lyle. They are a PBJ - peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I say a PBJ because I don’t think it’s fair to call Lyle - Jordan and Randy - Pippen. They’re both Jordan’s. Heck, add Shayne Jackson to that and Georgia has 3 MVP caliber players on their team. Insane. In short, I fear and I feel for all defencemen when they have to match up against Lyle. With Lyle, Randy and Shayne on the floor, at the same time, there’s nowhere to hide.
Randy Staats: The ultimate competitor. I respect Randy so much. I regret that I wasn’t better in Jr. and our defence wasn’t better in Jr. Randy deserved a Minto Cup. That still haunts me to this day. When I played for the Six Nation Arrows, Randy was the best player in the league. He was and still is so gifted. With him, Lyle and Shayne on the same team, it is like playing Madden ‘04 using the Atlanta Falcons and Mike Vick - simply not fair. Randy is so unselfish.
Like I mentioned before, his pick setting ability is the best in the league. He plays chess while everyone else plays checkers. I don’t know why it’s not talked about more. He’s always setting picks using his body. This allows him to free up his hands easily as he rolls or pops. Sometimes, as a defensive player, an offensive player can set a really good pick, but the defender can grab his stick at the end buying the defender time to recover. You can’t do that against Randy. He rolls into a pick putting his man in a tough situation to defend Lyle and rolls out of picks, so you can’t grab onto him. There should be a class on pick-setting and Randy is the only one who should teach it. (I would throw Eric Fannell in that class too. He is right there with Randy for setting the best picks. I see it every practice.)
“It is like playing Madden ‘04 using the Atlanta Falcons and Mike Vick - simply not fair.”
Also, I just found it funny that I said “defend” Lyle and Randy, Ha! We don’t defend; we just try and manage...damage control. Another thing I find funny, I haven’t even mentioned Randy’s shooting yet or his skillset. Has anyone else noticed that most offensive players, late in the shot clock, just fire it at the net, hoping for a reset? If Randy knows his percentage to score is low (far away from the net, tough angle etc...), strategically, he shoots short side, off the goalies pad, and chases for the loose ball which almost every time is in the corner, so Randy has the advantage because he knows where it’s going. I haven’t seen anyone better at it.
Georgia's offence literally ‘Swarms’ the ball on those shots creating another opportunity to score, with a tired defence and a fresh shot clock. The percentage of teams scoring on a “reset” is so much higher too...I guess I don’t know that for sure, but I see it on film over and over again. I could write about Randy all day, but I’ll leave you with this - Nobody and I mean nobody has a better down the alley or down the wall shot than Randy.
On most teams, when you’re the top defender, your job is to force the offensive player down the wall. Get the offensive player to turn his stick over so he’s not a threat to score. Randy’s ability to get that shot off and go farside or pull it short side while he lulls his defender asleep is simply incredible.
Curtis Dickson is held 95% of the time, everytime
Curtis Dickson: OK, I’m going to say it - Curtis Dickson is held 95% of the time, everytime. If you don’t, he scores. He draws so many penalties and really should draw one every single shift he’s on the floor. It may be because he has the ball in his stick the entire time he’s on the floor (unless Dane Dobbie has it), or because he’s that good. Regardless of what people may think, a defender is holding onto Curtis almost every play. Calgary should have 10+ power plays a game strictly on that principle alone. That’s how elite he is. Obviously, it goes without saying, Curtis is arguably the best 1v1 player in the NLL.
Also, he goes at everyone including the best defenders in the NLL. He will challenge anyone. Rookies, young players, and friendly reminder to myself, please allow someone else to cover him. I remember watching him play for Delaware and scouts for most teams would say, “send 2 to 3 slides'' which eventually meant a jailhouse blitz because he could run by slides as easily as it is to take candy from babies. Here’s my take on his shooting - I don’t understand how his fade away sidearm underhand goes in from literally everywhere. It’s probably comparable to Dirk Nowitski’s infamous fade away except Curtis chucks cannons from literally anywhere and majority of the time they go in. He always scores one goal a game that’s way downtown like Curry shooting from the half court logo...come on goalies. (Sorry goalies). So, what do I try to do? Like Lyle, pick your poison. Force an outside shot, don’t allow him to go underneath, but he knows players are doing that, and he has the ability to force the defender out of position and get to the honey hole. I’ve been a victim of that....more than once…
The Jammer Effect
Cody Jamieson: You hear it in sports a lot. It’s over used - A Generational Talent. The clutch gene. Ice in his veins. Well, that’s the definition of Cody Jamieson. He embodies all three of those. Still, at the latter stage in his career, battling injuries, he is all of that. I see it every time I’m with him. Whether at practice or at games, he is all of that. You know that feeling when you’re just so sure? Jordan with the ball for the game winning shot. Tiger with a birdie putt on 18. Ronaldo and Messi with the free kick. That’s Jammer. He is that sure. You need a goal or just need something to happen, he goes and makes it happen. In those moments, coaches say we need you to do this. Jordan, Tiger, Ronaldo and Messi don’t need to be told that. They just know and go and do it. Jammer doesn’t need to be told either - he just makes it happen.
Top of the power, I know if he shoots, the chances of that ball going in are so high. I’m usually already walking out for the ball team and the next faceoff. It’s the Jammer effect. If you’ve been lucky enough to play with him, you know what I’m talking about. This part of Jammer’s game might be my favourite - his iconic twister. It is literally poetry in motion. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s been playing goalies ever since his iconic twister became his shot. He’s one of the best. He’s such a great leader, and I’m so lucky to play alongside the future Hall of Famer.
There isn’t an adjective to describe the amount of skill, creativity, strength and athleticism it takes to do that - simply put it’s just Mark Matthews.
Mark Matthews: This guy is gooooood. Nicknamed, the Mailman is - just that. An elite offensive talent. His vision is unmatched in the game of lacrosse. Maybe Dane Dobbie is comparable, but he has the ability to find anyone on the floor. Compliments to his long-time teammate, Ben Macintosh. That combo is fun to watch and not fun to play against. Mark literally shoots the ball at Ben and he one touches it to the back of the net. As much as everyone talks about him being an elite passer, he can also shoot the lights out of a ball. He’s up there for one of the hardest and most accurate shots in the league. Standing in front of the net while he shoots isn’t fun. You know it’s either going in, or you’re soaking the shot. Mark also has an unappreciated first step. The big man can move. He scored a highlight reel goal against us in our overtime thriller last year. Swim move, bodied a guy, then an on-the-run under hand shovel shot for a goal. There isn’t an adjective to describe the amount of skill, creativity, strength and athleticism it takes to do that - simply put it’s just Mark Matthews. Can’t make it up. Playing against Mark in the 2018 Finals, I tried everything to stop him, but obviously was unable to do so. First shift of every game, I crossed checked him in the neck, tried to rip the skin off of his shoulders. I always got a warning first shift of the game. Sorry, Mark, but you earned the last laugh hoisting the cup after beating us in Game 3.
"Callum Crawford should have won MVP last year."
Callum Crawford: This is a tricky one, and I’m going to be very careful on how I word this: Callum Crawford should have won MVP last year. I respect Shayne Jackson a lot. He is an exceptional player and on this list as well, but in my opinion, Callum should have won MVP. He finished first in goals, points and the New England Blackwolves ‘finished’ in first place. I don’t know how the voting works, and by no means want to dilute what Shayne did for the Swarm.
I want to talk about how good Callum is...Callum is scary. He draws so much attention. He is freakishly athletic, he has a wicked shot and he has amazing inside finishing abilities. His fakes are like a windshield wiper. He doesn't even turn his wrist over and still manages to hold onto the ball. And the majority of the time, when he’s finishing inside, he’s doing it while jumping in the air. His inside roll with the free arm is a classic move. Just when you think you have him in a good position he spins around you, holds you with his other arm, and usually flies through the crease for the finish or simply, picks a spot and buries it. Callum and Dan Dawson have perfected this move. Is it a free arm? Yes, 100% it is. Every defenceman would agree with me and every offensive player would disagree. However, it never gets called and it’s made for some amazing goals and highlight reels. If you’re playing against Callum, you have to be aware of him at all times. He’s a dangerous player and a dynamic player, and he’s made my list.
Dane Dobbie: How does this guy get it done? We all heard Paul “Biz Nasty” Bissonette make the comments pregame last year about him. Well, ya Dane Dobbie may have a bit of a barrel, but he rocks it proudly and can also put the ball in the back of the net better than 95% of the league. Nobody is better than him scoring off the bench breakaways. Nobody is better on the powerplay. He can really really shoot the ball and if his shot isn’t going, which it normally always does, he gets to the net. How? I have no idea how he gets around me or anyone, but I respect the heck out of it. I would guess and say that he can adapt. He adapts which I think is hard to do for players at this level, but he’s one of the best at it. His IQ is off the charts, and I’m sure if you asked anyone in the Calgary Roughnecks organization, they’d say he’s a fierce competitor. From what I’ve heard, he hates to lose and loves to win.
Shayne Jackson and Ben Macintosh: Not going to lie, I got a little lazy and put Shayne and Ben together, but they’re so much of the same. Both Shayne and Ben are shadowed by Mark, Lyle and Randy, but my god they are legit. Shayne and Ben are so slippery. They find those “softs spots”. Like Chase Claypool said, “7-11 is always open” and that perfectly describes both Shayne and Ben. It's funny Shayne is so good at it that he is chirping you before it happens and then he makes sure that you heard him after he’s scored. It’s harmless, that’s just him and his personality. I will add that for a smaller guy, Shayne has one of the hardest shots in our league. Some people would say otherwise, but they haven’t stood in front of the net while he curl hops into a shot. He can really let go. (Or maybe, I’ve been hit by too many of his shots...idk.) Ben on the other hand, I don’t know him personally, and he’s developed into one of the best in the game. Everyone thinks of him as an offball player that catches the bullets from Mark and taps them in, but he’s become a complete player. He will go at you 1v1, great in the two man and yes, lethal off ball. Overall, these two guys are elite and in my opinion, top players in the game.
Ryan Benesch: I really wanted to add Beni to the list above. This guy is a sneaky 8th All-Time in scoring, and I truly don’t think he gets enough credit for that! He’s a competitor and the ultimate ‘locker room guy.’ I’m lucky to play with him and call him a teammate. One of the best shooters in the game and you can’t change my mind about that!
Jesse King: Master of all trades. Wherever he goes, he immediately makes that team better. Yes, you can say that about anyone on this list, but Jesse can compliment anyone or any role the team needs him to play. He can be a number one, a number two or a number three lefty offensive player on your team. He is such a complete player and can do it all at an elite level. His story and his comebacks from battling injuries are remarkable. I hope he stays healthy for the rest of his career because the game needs and is better when Jesse is playing.
Josh Byrne: I will probably have more to say about him the more he plays, but Josh is an elite talent. If he can stay healthy, he will win MVP one day (same with Challen Rogers).
Rob Hellyer: Heck of a player. He is so dynamic. What is scary about Rob is that he continues to get better every year. I suspect more big seasons will come from him. Luckily, I don’t have to cover him when we play.
Overall, all of these players have a few things in common: they love the game, they’re competitors, and they’ve all put in endless hours to master their craft. There is no secret to success. These guys put in the work, and as always, success leaves clues.
Until next time,
Halifax Thunderbirds #45