A Letter To My Younger Self
By Stephen Keogh
A note from Luc Magnan:
Before you read this letter, I just wanted to say that Stephen Keogh is one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. I know I can speak for a lot of my other teammates, and players that have crossed paths with Keogh when I say he is one of the most respected players around.
He plays the game the right way. He’s tough as nails. He puts his body on the line every single night, every single shift. Nobody has played as long and as hard as Keogh, and I know he’s got so much more in the tank. Every team would be lucky to have a Stephen Keogh on their team. His toughness, creativity, ability to catch everything thrown at him, and that infamous grocery bag pocket of his - he’s one of the best to do it.
Proven winner on multiple levels. There’s no secret to success. Keogh is a clue to success and what it takes to be a proven winner.
Lastly, I’m happy to call Stephen a good friend.
You’re going to be a champion one day. Oh yes, a champion. On multiple levels in fact. But you have to ask yourself; at what cost? You don’t know it now but you surely are going to pay a price for it. The body you once knew is going to break down, both literally and figuratively. You’ll undergo surgeries, pulls, tears, and pops. But hey, that’s the price that will make it all worth it.
Here’s what you’re going to accomplish: You’re going to win at the junior level, the collegiate level, senior canadian level and oh ya, the professional level too. You're going to compete Internationally. Yes, Internationally! I think any 12 year old would be thrilled to know that, and I know you will be too. But it won’t come easy. Get that thought out of your head right now. The hours you will put into this, the dedication, the pain, the hardships; it’s not going to be easy.
Your stick will become your best friends at times where it seems that’s all you have. To be a champion, it’s a rollercoaster. You’ll be faced with some tough choices, you'll be faced with adversity, and you’ll endure some grueling injuries. But I’ll say this again...it was so damn worth it!
Someday you’ll have to thank Don Kohara. He’s a Dad in the Beaches, and he is big into lacrosse. He’s going to give you your first stick and first gear bag. He will show up at your door and say, “Here, Stephen, you’re playing lacrosse now.”
I’m just going to flat out say it - you’re going to have to fight, and you’re going to fight a lot. Secretly you will learn to love it, and you can thank your brothers Matt and Sean for it, but Matt definitely made you tougher. That’s part of having older brothers. You may not like it now, but it will serve you a greater purpose for your career moving forward.
Matt is and will continue to be one of your biggest influences in life. Matt wears the number 28, and soon enough you’re going to follow his footsteps. He’s your idol. It’s funny, he wears the number because of Tie Domi. Matt played a lot like him. Tough, gritty and the ultimate team player. You will do all of this too. Score goals, fight, set hard picks and be a physical player. The toll on your body is nothing compared to the reward of winning.
So when you’re wrestling with Matt and you’re not winning now, just know that it will help mold you into the player that you are when you’re older.
This will propel you into watching and idolizing all the Jr. A Beaches lacrosse team and the players on the floor. This will be a big part of your development. One player you need to keep your eye on is Matt Holman. He is someone you’ll try and mold your game after. He’s a little guy, but he’s tough as nails. A fan favourite. You’ll watch him and the team from behind the net chirping goalies and waiting for your chance to wear the Blue, Yellow, and White. Your stick will be there with you every step of the way.
If I can tell you one thing it will be this, please, pretty please keep your stick in your hands. You’re going to bring it to the playground, the school, the classroom, and the grocery store. You’ll bring it with you everywhere you go. Some of your best childhood lacrosse memories will be playing in the backyard trying to replicate different moves and practicing them over and over again.
Your stick is your creativity. It’s your escape.. You’ll watch countless hours of Casey Powell videos, replicating his trick shots and trying to be exactly like 22. You’ll recreate them, you’ll practice them over and over again; around-the-world, behind-the-back, fakes, twisters, you name it and you’ll practice it. You’re going to get teased for always having your stick in your hands, but that ins't going to stop you one bit.
Have your stick with you everyday and bring it everywhere. Like I said, you’ll do this anyways, but I’m just giving you a gentle reminder.
Your family friend, Ryan Cousins, who is good friends with Matt will be a great influence on you. He will help you develop individually, and he will always be good for a free stick or two. He is someone you will look up to.
You’ll have a choice to make in high school.
Choice 1: You can stay in Toronto where your grades are slipping and so is your dedication to working on your skills. You aren’t the same kid you used to be.
Choice 2: Take the opportunity to go to The Brewster Academy. This will be an opportunity to take your life seriously, work hard in school and ultimately, an opportunity to play Division 1 lacrosse. This is your ticket out. This is your chance to become everything you wanted to be as that little kid who wouldn’t leave his stick out of eye sight.
Spoiler alert, you’re going to Brewster. And from there, the rest is history.
So, with that being said, I would like to say thank you Bill Lee, and Matt Rowley. They’re going to believe in you and push you. They’re going to encourage you to be creative and help you get to Syracuse. Thanks, Bill and Matt.
Syracuse. These will be some of the best years of your life. Your Freshman year, 2007-08, you’re going to win a National Championship. You’ll even score two goals in front of 49,000 people at Gillette Stadium, which is one of the highest attended games in Championship history.
And guess what? This is only the beginning.
Next season, you’ll be a part of one of the greatest lacrosse games of all-time. I’m not exaggerating. I want to prepare you for it.
The 2009 Syracuse vs. Cornell Championship game will go down in history as one of the greatest championship games of all-time. It’s going to be an incredible comeback.
It gives me anxiety writing this, but I have to warn you: You’re going to miss a pass from Kenny with under a minute remaining. At that moment you are crushed. You let the team down. That moment you’ve been playing out in your head since you were 12 years old just happened, and slipped through your fingers.
“Kenny trusts me and I just let the team down.” That’s your human reaction. All within a split second.
But don’t worry about it, trust me, everything is going to be okay.
Joel White is going to strip a long pole on the ride. There’s a scrum for the loose ball. Your eyes are lighting up. You know this is your time for redemption. You’re going to make a play on it. You’ll fumble it once but you will secure it. Damnit, you’re not making another mistake.
Remember when I said you’ll be in the backyard and practice behind-the-backs and be creative? (You can thank me later, but that time in the backyard, the countless hours practicing behind-the-backs will pay off on this play.)
Joel will tell you there’s a man open. You’ll fire a beautiful back hand pass to Abbott. Who then will make an amazing pass to Kenny on the crease and he will secure the tie and send the game to overtime where you guys will eventually win the game. In overtime, it’s important to mention that Sid Smith will strip his man and Cody Jamieson will score the game winner.
Don’t tell them though. Let them enjoy that moment. Your best friends, who have put in countless hours of their own, in their own backyards, dreaming of this very moment.
Just know that the hard work you’ve put in will pay off at Syracuse. The endless hours playing, practicing, and fighting will all be worth it. That’s how you’ll earn this moment in life. It’s the preparation from 10 years before that helped you for that moment.
I think I should give you a heads up about this - in Jr. A and Sr. A, there’s this rule that when on the penalty kill, the shot clock stops and essentially, you can hold onto the ball and kill the entire penalty. The ball carrier gets doubled and beat up a lot in these situations, but you’ll be one of the best at it. Just make sure you take a 5 min break after. Thank god you have that grocery bag pocket that everyone is going to give you grief about for years to come.
Oh and a Minto. One of your first dreams in lacrosse. You’ll win one of those too. You are going to hoist with the Northmen, and you might not believe this either but you’re going to be a Minto Cup MVP. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that.
Your Mann Cups are insane too. The first Mann Cup was absolutely insane. I could go into details about that, but I don’t want to spoil it. If I told you that the legend, Colin Doyle went in net, would you believe me?
After Doyle goes in net, you’ll have yourself quiet the performance and score a hatrick. Not to mention, the fans in Victoria were insane. It was an intense battle for the Mann Cup, but it is a story of a lifetime. You’ll look back and reflect on this series from time to time. I mean, everyone else does, how couldn’t you!
That season and story alone can be a movie one day, and it will be something pretty cool to be a part of. The second Mann Cup, for you, is going to be extra special. You’re going to play through a torn meniscus and about four other injuries as well.
You’ll put your body through a lot to win, but this is one of those times that you’ll have to find a way to get through it. And trust me, it will be so damn worth it. It always is. You’ll have to get surgery two weeks after winning, but the pain of discipline always outweighs the pain of regret. Everytime you look at that Mann Cup ring, you’ll be reminded of that.
I have to mention the fact that you will be selected 2nd overall in the National Lacrosse League draft, where you’ll go on win three straight NLL Championships. Yeah, I’m dead serious.
And to make it even sweeter, you’ll be surrounded by some amazing teammates. Some familiar faces to say the least. Each of these championships are unique in their own way, but I don’t want to give you too much right now. That’s for you to find out. Just know that, as always, you’ll have to find a way to get it done and of course, you’ll always have to battle some sort of injury.
It’s important to tell you that your style of play in the NLL is unique. You’ll do a lot of jobs that most people wouldn’t do. In a sense, you’ll be a jack of all trades. Let’s call it the perfect mix of finesse and grit. You do a lot of the dirty work: setting hard picks, getting to the middle, creating space for others and yes, fighting.
Of course you’re going to score goals (and some really nice ones too), but those little things are the difference makers on a lot of successful teams. Also, Those are the things your teammates and coaches will respect you the most for. A very complete offensive player that can do whatever is needed to be done and can play in any system.
I’ll tell you one more thing about the NLL. In 2013, you’ll be scratched for the NLL Championship game. Even though you guys win, getting scratched sucks. However, you’ll bounce back from it. The following year, you’ll win team offensive MVP and yes, you guys will win again. So, yes, it’s a roller coaster at times, but that is what builds character and trust me, you’ll have lots of it when it’s all said and done.
Also, I just want to let you know how beautiful this game is. This game will allow you to travel the world and meet some incredible people. You’ll go to the White House twice and meet three Presidents of the United States! So if you’re ever doubting about putting your stick down or the fact that Toronto Beaches isn’t a hotbed for lacrosse, think again. Like I mentioned before, you’ll have to earn everything.
Before I go, here are my last few pieces of advice for you:
Take care of your body. I know I’ve said this earlier but there’s no avoiding it. You're going to play through so many injuries. It will be a rollercoaster ride and I know you are going to want to walk away from it, but trust me. Stay with it.
When you feel like giving up, please don’t - you got this. If you’re not scoring, do whatever you can to help the team: fight, get loose balls, set picks and always be a good teammate. And lastly, don’t be afraid to be creative and you stick and the wall is your best friend.
P.S. Make sure you watch The U 30 for 30 and Patrick Kane play hockey. You’ll absorb this celebration that will be universally known in the lacrosse world as the “Stephen Keogh” celly. While playing PlayStation 3, NHL 10, you’ll create a player and that will be his celly too. It’s electrifying!
Stephen Keogh #28
That’s it folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this as much as I have. Thank you Charlie Ragusa for being my partner in crime throughout this process. Maybe a season two later on, but for now, that’s it. If you’ve enjoyed this and if you want to see more, head over to Lacrosse Flash. John Lintz has something similar going on called Behind the Cage.
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
The Best Defensemen In The NLL | 2/22
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
The Evolution of Coaching | 3/1/21
The Evolution of Coaching
Week 3! Wow, this is fun! First off, I’d like to say that I’m glad to see it’s making waves. I’ve appreciated the feedback that I’ve received in weeks one and two. Remember, I’m a player and players like to be coached, so any feedback or people reaching out has been great and greatly appreciated. I’ve recently seen others diving into writing or some similar styles. That’s great. I’m just thankful that the T-Birds have given me a great opportunity and a platform to share some of my thoughts and opinions. Obviously, they did a fact check on me before I was hired to do this. With that being said, let’s jump right into it.
“Information is everywhere but wisdom is scarce”
Over the past two weeks, you may have read my take(s) on the best offensive and defensive players in the NLL, or maybe you’re tuning in for the first time. Regardless, welcome to Mondays with Mags, a collection of my running thoughts; I hope you enjoy it!
“If you don’t change, you will die with the dinosaurs.”
Yelling at players, public humiliation, and dehumanizing players is out like Dickies and Corsets. (Please never come back). Does that really work? Did it ever really work?
Personally, I need to be pushed, but in the right way. Therein lies that thin line between motivating a player and shaming a player.
I didn’t, and certainly don’t want to be verbally abused, but from time to time, I need to be pushed, and truly believe this is the biggest part of coaching that has changed. You may be wondering - when does a coach know that Luc needs to be pushed? It’s simple, my coaches know me. My coaches have invested time and built relationships with me. They know when I need a push, they know when I need my space to figure something out. They know when I need to be supported and because they simply know me.
There are so many different coaching styles. You can read about them all. Study different styles and study different strategies. Coaches are constantly changing, adapting and recycling material. They’re all learning, and shocker… they are coaching each other.
So what’s my point here? Well I think that the old school “my way or the highway” train of thought is as the artist known as T.I. once said, ‘Dead and Gone.’ Making your players feel valued so you can get the best out of them is a challenge, but it’s really about investment. That’s a hard thing to do at the professional level.
Player movement is inevitable. Take a look at any championship winning team. Even the team that goes the distance, defies all odds, fires on all cylinders and hoists the ultimate prize will undergo some sort of player movement. Retirement, injuries, rookie drafts, free agency, expansion drafts etc...no two teams will ever look the same. You HAVE to find ways to bring new pieces into your puzzle and make them fit.
Mike Accursi has mentioned this a lot in interviews - the young players and rookies in the league are different. And by all means, different isn’t a bad thing. However, his approach has to be different. He knows that from when he was an up-and-coming pro, to when I was a rookie, to the rookies now, things are drastically different. Society has changed, so in my opinion, coaching has too. If you don’t change, you’ll die with the dinosaurs.
Like I mentioned above, Mike Accursi gets it. He’s so in tune with his players. He knows what makes certain players tick, and I think that all comes down to investing into your players and building relationships. He understands that every player is different, and that he has to tailor his approach differently, for each player, to best suit their needs. I have nothing but good things to say about Coach Accursi (I promise he hasn’t paid me to write nice things).
In all honesty though, he is going to be successful in this league for many years to come, and it is not by luck. It is because he has adapted to the climate of the sport around him, and is so good with the details. And I’m not just talking about the details of the game (x’s and the o’s), but the off the floor details and understanding the players on his team.
I remember the night he was getting inducted into the Knighthawks Hall of Fame, and the ceremony that took place in celebration of his achievements. Words like character, team player, and ultimate leader, were echoed by his former teammates, his coaches, and the staff. These buzzwords are ones that define the career of Hall of Famers on the floor, but they also stick for the guys on the bench that are responsible for grooming the next crop of athletes and steering a franchise to success.
If you didn’t know, Coach Accursi is also a guidance counselor in southern Ontario. I don’t want to put words in his mouth or speak for him, but I bet that job has made him a better coach. As a guidance counselor, you deal with some touchy and rough subjects. So how you approach them and how you communicate with people (students) going through that is tricky. I think that gives him an edge on understanding his players, what motivates them and how he can squeeze the most out of them.
Before each game the line-up gets posted on the white board, wall, door, whatever. On it contains special teams units; the powerplay, penalty kill, face-off team, last minute offence, last minute defence etc. I always joke with him about getting me some PP (powerplay) time. Obviously, I know my role and that will never happen, but I like to think I’m top of the Power for PP3 (there’s no PP3).
It’s little things like that. The banter and most importantly, the accessibility with a coach. It keeps the locker room light and it’s a part of a growing relationship with your coach. What is impressive is he has a unique relationship with everyone on the team. Our whole coaching staff is very approachable and fun to play for. You hear the term ‘player’s coach.’ Some are lucky enough to play for one or two in their career, we are lucky to have an entire staff of them.
However, they do have high expectations for us, and that’s important. Our job as players is to try and meet those expectations. For me, I never want to let them down, as I would never want to let down the guy to my left, or the guy to my right. Once you earn that trust from your coaches and build those relationships, you play harder.
It’s the expression, “I would run through a wall for my team or coach.”
I would. And I sincerely mean that.
When you have a mutual respect with your coach you find yourself digging a little bit deeper when the tank approaches E. So, with Coach Accursi, he understands the balance. When we need support, when we need positive feedback, or simply, when we need, metaphorically speaking, a “kick a butt”.
“I looked left, and I was absolutely pancaked, on the Knighthawks logo, and I found myself, on my back, staring at the stars”
When I began my time with the organization, I played for Mike Hasen, who has since remained on with the current Rochester Knighthawks. I played for Mike for three seasons in Rochester and the relationship I had with him was different. And not different in a bad way, but different in a sense of coaching style. I had to earn the respect of Coach Hasen, and I knew that right away.
Here’s some backstory - I got cut from the Toronto Rock a week prior to the start of my second season in the league. Guess who the first game was against? Yes, the Toronto Rock. If you think this is going to be an amazing quick adversity story - it’s not. We lost the game, and while I don’t remember the score, I do remember this...
We were down by three in the 3rd quarter. I was carrying the ball across the midline staring at the right side of the floor with my tunnel vision and my blinders on. I looked left, and I was absolutely pancaked on the Knighthawks logo. I found myself on my back staring at the stars. Toronto picks up the ball, runs down the floor and scores. That is what you call the TSN turning point or nail in the coffin.
When you join a new team, all you want to do is fit in, make your teammates like and respect you, and gel with that new cast. But at that moment, I felt I had let my new coach and my new team down. Walking off the floor I truly thought that would be the last game I played in the NLL.
Coach Hasen could have cut me, but he didn’t. He put his faith in me to learn and to grow as a player. I had played 12 of 18 games, fighting to stay in the lineup each week, fighting to see time on the floor. As a younger player, I learned from Coach Hasen, Coach O’Toole and the older players on the roster. It was an instrumental season for me and my growth as a player and what I like to think of as a leader.
We didn’t speak much that year, but when him and I did talk, it made the time spent that much more impactful. I felt that I was lucky to be around a great coach and an amazing staff with exceptional veterans, and in turn I worked hard and learned everything I could.
The next year, I knew I had to come into camp ready and I did. I had a great year. Played every game and played big and meaningful minutes. I know that’s a long winded backstory, but my point here is that coaching comes in many forms. My relationship with Coach Hasen was different, but so was the situation. I was a younger player, fighting to break into the league. Noone owed me anything and I knew that. I still know that. But as you progress from year to year, the relationships you have change. It’s a comfortability of sorts, but surely not a complaceny.
Coach Hasen let me work through the growing pains and develop as a player. I also understood the makeup of our team. We were veteran heavy, so all I needed to do was my job, work hard and listen. Coach Hasen knew that too. I remember him saying to us, “I’m not on the floor so how do you guys want to play it?”
That right there was a simple way to empower our veterans, give players a voice, and let the players feel valued. Also, there’s some ownership there for the players and accountability. Like hey, this is how the players want to do it, so make it work. There’s many different ways to look at it, but I think that’s so valuable. In the end, that comes down to earning trust with one another, understanding and building relationships, and that coaching has changed. Thanks, Coach Hasen. I owe you big time.
I think both Coach Hasen and Accursi both understood the power in investing into players and understanding what makes a player tick. Long gone are the days of coaches grabbing onto your cage and screaming in your face. They know that. They are the new era of coaches in the NLL, and it is no surprise that success has followed them.
“When you invest into something or someone, more times than not the value in the return is substantial”
Overall, what are my keys into how coaching has changed? People matter. Build relationships. Players are more informed than ever. Make them feel valued and bring them along. Make them feel like they’re contributing and it shouldn’t matter where they are on the depth chart. Obviously, they’re many more factors that contribute to The Evolution of Coaching, but the factors above are what standout to me the most.
So, when you invest into something or someone, more times than not the value in the return is substantial. Obviously, coaches don’t just invest into anything. They have a good product and a good player there or sometimes they see things differently than others. They see the potential that players have and they believe that those individuals can help the team reach its goals. For what essentially? For the quest to the Holy Grail - The Champions Cup.
I could go on and on, but that’s a little insight to two coaches who I respect and admire a ton and how coaching has changed from a my way or highway to a team oriented mindset and approach. Our league has some amazing coaches. I think that’s what makes the NLL unique and almost all of them are former players and more ways than one connected to Les Bartley.
“Communicate, Connect, Commit and Care. - Jon Gordan
Since Covid-19 has entered our lives, the world as we used to know it has drastically changed. I can’t remember the last time I was able to give a friend a high-five or a hug. The ‘normal’ social interaction that I’m used to having is no longer what it once was. Having the ability to write over the past few weeks has been fun and has been a way to fill the void of social interaction. So again, a huge thank you to Charlie Ragusa and the T-Birds for this opportunity, and the ability to put pen to paper on something so important to me.
Covid-19 sucks. However, it has presented new and unexpected opportunities I might not have thought possible otherwise. I suggest to everyone to try and find their own, new opportunities during this global challenge.
Have you been able to find opportunities for self-growth? I have for sure. Not just through writing, but reading as well. I’ve read a lot of books over the past year, most revolving around coaching. Here are some good reads: Anything that involves Vince Lombardi is a no brainer. Burke’s Law is great. Eleven Rings is a classic. Tribes by Seth Godin smooth read and has lots of good pointers. James Clear Atomic Habits can change your perspective and is great for self growth or any growth for that matter. Any Jon Gordan book is an easy, a quick and a fantastic read. The Energy Bus is my favourite. I’ve read it multiple times.
Find something you like and just get started. Whether that is writing or reading, dive in and do it. We all have the time now, right? I know I’m just scratching the surface. So what do all of these books have in common? Ultimately coaching, managing people, different strategies and insight. So, as we know - times are changing. People are more educated than ever. Everyone has an opinion. There are no more King and Queens that rule over all the subjects. The Dictatorship era is over (well almost). We are all still bound to a system, but we “the people” have more power now than ever. This is my long winded comparison into coaching. Coaching has changed. Coaching, in my opinion, is harder and is more difficult than ever. The dictator approach to coaching is near its end. Empowering, inclusion, teamwork and having the same mindset towards a common goal is leading the charge. It’s at the forefront of every successful team. Before, players didn’t have a say. You did what you were told - “Coaches way or the highway”. Today, coaches do have the final say, but there just so much more that goes into coaching now. So here we go!
Why Goalies Should Be The Highest Paid Players In The NLL | 3/7/21
Why Goalies Should Be The Highest Paid Players In The NLL
“There Is No Position In Sport As Noble As Goaltending”
Another week, another article. No introduction needed. Except for this - I think all goalies are built differently. They have to be. And I think you guys deserve all the praise and all the money.
Goaltenders are the foundation of any team. I’m not in construction, but I’m pretty sure that if you have a solid foundation, you can build a tall building. If you don’t have a solid foundation, then you probably cannot support a tall building. What am I getting at?
Goaltenders are the key to championship teams.
In my opinion, goalies in the NLL are undoubtedly the most important piece to any team, and are truly the most valuable players in the game. The fact that the Calgary Roughnecks took Christian Del Bianco early in the second round as an 18 year old, is absolutely genius.
“Defense wins championships” is true. At least, in my opinion, but I would say that most teams build their teams from the back end up. So the question I have is this - why is it that the offensive are always chosen in the first round? To my knowledge, Evan Kirk and Dillon Ward (yes, I spelled his name correctly) are the only goalies in recent history to be taken in the first round. CBD is an exceptional goalie in the league and will be an amazing goalie in the league for many years to come. So why wasn’t he taken earlier? I guess the argument there is that he was young, inexperienced and viewed as a risk? How he would pan out? I honestly have no clue. Also, I’d argue that the 2015 NLL draft class was the best draft class in NLL history. (Yes, I was in that draft class too. Quick tire pump.)
“Honestly, it never bothered me because Matt Vinc saved my ass more times than I can count”
This isn’t an article about Matt Vinc, but I would be doing a disservice to the position if I didn’t talk about the greatest box lacrosse goalie to ever play the game.
I remember Matt Vinc saying that he was going to retire after his contract ended in Buffalo. Well, he signed an extension with them since then, and I think he can probably play longer. When it’s all said and done, he’s going to go down as the greatest goaltender of all time. There’s little doubt to that. And the crazy part? I think he can play even longer, if he wants to.
He was fun to play in front of. I think at times, he gets a bad rap for yelling at his defenders after a goal against. Well, he’s usually right and he’s intense and competitive by nature. Honestly, it never bothered me because Matt Vinc saved my ass more times than I can count. Like I said in my previous article, listen to the message and not the tone. Plus, more times than not, you didn’t end up on a ‘bad clip’ in film because he made a ridiculous save. Thanks, Vno.
For example, when he signed in Buffalo for the 2018-19 season, they automatically became a Cup contending team. Buffalo had a good team the year before, but they weren’t a Cup contending team. That’s the difference between having an good goaltender and an ELITE goaltender.
Here are some facts - the season before Matt came over from Rochester (‘17-’18), Buffalo was 3rd to last in the league with 235 goals against. The year he arrived, Buffalo finished 1st and with the fewest goals against - 186. Not to say that was just Matt Vinc, but he did bring two different teams to the finals in back-to-back years. Unfortunately, he lost both championships, but both Rochester and Buffalo don’t get to the finals without him. Fact.
If he wins both of those championships, that’s probably comparable to the Brady status. However, that’s the impact he has on a team and what a difference maker an elite goalie can do to your franchise. The guy has 7 Goaltender of the Year Awards. If that’s not GOAT status, I don’t know what else is.
“Goaltenders have the biggest impacts on the game...So, bottom line, if you want to win, get an elite goalie.”
Goaltenders have the biggest impacts on the game. The exact same thing can be said about Georgia and the arrival of Mike Poulin. They had the talent up front, offensively, but when Mike Poulin arrived, they became a cup contender and eventually won the championship and became a championship team. A tough argument to be made about Aaron Bold / Evan Kirk in Saskatchewan. You could say that they have the best defence in front them, but those two guys are elite. Especially during the years they both respectively won. Here is some proof to the pudding.
Over the past decade, every NLL team that has won the NLL Championship has had an elite goaltender in the net: Bob Watson, Matt Vinc x3, Aaron Bold x2, Mike Poulin, Evan Kirk, and Christian Del Bianco. Now I don’t think anyone can argue that these goalies aren’t elite. So, bottom line, if you want to win, get an elite goalie. Beyond that, I can’t recall a Championship team without an elite goaltender or at least someone who stole games for their team.
I think about the best defenses in football and in basketball. Any team, in recent history, that has won a championship in the NFL or NBA had an elite defence. I bet if the Brooklyn Nets don’t learn how to play good team defence, then they won’t win the NBA title. It’s too hard. Without an elite defence / elite goaltending, you’re not built for the long run in the playoffs. For the Nets specifically, you can’t expect them to score 150pts a game.
During my collegiate years, at Robert Morris, we had the number one offensive team, three years in a row. Our offence consisted of: Kiel Matiz, Kyle Buchcanan, Kevin Brownell, Jake Hayes, Trevor Moore, Corbyn Tao, Tyler Digby, Jacob Ruest, Mitch Wilde, Tyson Gibson and Pat Smith just to name a few (all former or current NLL players). And even with all that talent upfront, we were bad in our own zone. I believe that was a big reason why we weren’t more competitive against the “big schools”. We were winning and losing games with ridiculously high scoring games (bet the over, everytime).
I think if we can learn anything from history today is that you have to build your teams from the ground up (the backend up). Field lacrosse teams should be built down the middle. Goalie, LSM, Midi and attackman. In the NLL, you have to start from the backend up. Solidify a goalie and then build from there.
I know that was all over the place, and I just bounced around from different sports and different levels. However, it’s important to note that goalies in any league and defenses in any league are so valuable. Which is why I titled this article: Why Goalies Should Be The Highest Paid Players In The NLL. It’s true. There is a big demand for number 1 goaltenders in the NLL.
The simple rule of supply and demand. The lower supply; the higher demand. In the NLL, I’d say 4 out of the 13 NLL teams are lacking good goaltending So yes, that’s right - I don’t think those four teams will win a championship until that changes. And, on top of that, I don’t think many, if any teams, have a great 1, 2 punch combo. In short, if starting goaltenders go down, most teams are in big trouble and therefore, pay the damn goalies.
“Warren has an undeniable ability to stop the ball and give the entire team confidence”
Warren Hill is so fun to play in front of. He has a calm demeanor about him. When he comes to the bench during TV timeouts or in between quarters, he always has a smile on his face. Calm, cool and collected. He always delivers his message to the defence with confidence and ease. Simple messages so we don’t over think things. Quick and easy adjustments.
Warren has an undeniable ability to stop the ball and give the entire team confidence. Half of the time, he’s doing the splits, making unreal outlet passes and earning our Halifax Thunderbirds necklace which is awarded to the best player by the coaches each game. In those moments, Warren isn’t a man of many words. However, he uses three words and those three words are always perfect. I’ll keep that in the locker room and let you wonder as to what they are. Anyways, Warren - I can’t wait to play in front of you soon and continue to watch you grow and flourish in the NLL.
Overall, I don’t have much left to say. If you don’t have a #1 goaltender in the NLL, you’re not going to win. There’s a high demand for them, so they should all get paid what they’re deserved. Like Blaze Riorden said (Philadelphia Wings offensive player and Premier Lacrosse League goaltender), “RESPECT THIS POSITION”.
“Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through.”
- Jacques Plante
Referees You can’t live with them, and you can’t without them
I’m sitting here in Orangeville, Ontario (some would say the center of the lacrosse universe) grateful and hopeful that the Covid-19 curve is bending all around the world. Like I’ve mentioned before, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we all have to remain hopeful and grateful. I sure am. Even though there’s no NLL season ‘this year’, we’ve all seen the announcement: “National Lacrosse League To Begin 2021-2022 Season The Weekend Of Dec 3-4, 2021”. I know it’s going to be that much better for when we get back. Every team will be playing in their respective buildings, cold beers will be flowing, and there will be fans in the stands, and I know the fans of Halifax will be roaring like the time Austin Shanks became the honorary ‘Mayor of Halifax’ (@pgreggy). What an epic shot: short side, bar down, what a release with 30 seconds remaining to tie the game. I still get chills thinking about that. Even though we lost that game, it was about our comeback, battling the adversity within the game, and demonstrating to ourselves that we were title contenders. Those are some of the moments I am grateful for, and those are the moments I look forward to again. So, life right now is just like that. We just need to find our own comebacks. I’m holding on to those moments of a roaring crowd. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to. However, what I will say now, I am not looking forward to the grey area that the game has and the target it puts on the referee's backs. Before I dive into the topic, I want to acknowledge and praise NLL referee, Kyle Kennery. Recently, he shared his story - “Lacrosse referee Kyle Kennery battled addiction and self-doubt in his unconventional journey of acceptance.” The amount of strength it takes to be vulnerable and share that story must not have been easy. Well done, Kyle. Being vulnerable is not weakness, it’s strength. The NLL is lucky to have you. Kudos. NLL Referee, Kyle Kennery recently shared his story about identity, pain and acceptance through @outsports. Now an openly pansexual man, @ref_kennery opens up about his journey to @devankaneyTV on this episode of The Warm Up presented by @warriorlax pic.twitter.com/hKF1xpMcBm — NLL (@NLL) February 10, 2021 “It takes a special person to be a referee” Referees are an interesting bunch. I almost want to categorize them as goalies...well like goalies. What I mean by that is goalies have the stereotype of being different. I think being different is a good thing. Normally, goalies have their rituals and superstitions before a game. Refs, they’re weird. I mean, who in their right mind wants to be a ref? I don’t get it. “When I grow up, I want to be a referee!” It feels weird even saying/typing that. But hey, if that’s what you want to do, then go for it. Good for you. And when I say ‘weird’ I don’t necessarily mean they’re weird people (most of them). I mean getting into a profession you know you are going to take constant heat from players, coaches, fans, journalists, etc. is some kind of mindset. So I guess the more I type and think about this, maybe being a referee is pretty cool and takes a strong minded individual who isn’t afraid of criticism. I think it takes a special person to be a referee. You have to be content with people being upset with you. It doesn’t matter how well you do, or how good you are at your job, some lacrosse fans, some players and some coaches will not be happy with you. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. I can probably count on one hand how many times someone has said, “the officiating was phenomenal tonight!” Instead, it’s swept under the rug. The mentality that the best official is one that can’t be seen, is a sad and unfortunate stigma. “We need to remind ourselves that referees are human beings too” This is an awkward subject. Refs 100% take abuse in every single game: from the players, from the coaches and from the fans. They take abuse regardless of any call they make. More often than not, if they make a call that favours one team, it doesn’t matter, the other team 95% of the time will disagree, and that team will let the referees hear it. As players we skew reality to fit a narrative. You believe so hard in your skewed reality that it becomes your truth. At the pro level, it’s embarrassing the amount of whining and complaining the players and the coaches do. I guarantee, every 30 seconds, so that’s every possession of the game, someone is whining or complaining to the referees. I’m not going to lie, I am, at times, guilty of that. I painfully type this out, not proud of admitting it, but it is the harsh reality. Being a young coach and coaching young players, I know that your team will embrace and take on your attitude, your energy and your reactions to the events of a game. In my opinion, if I’m complaining all game, as a player or as a coach, I don’t think the referees are inclined to listen to me later. Why would they want to talk or listen to someone who is complaining and in their face about every call at any point in the game? Referees are human too. They have a job to do, but nothing gets accomplished with abuse. My point may be valid on many fronts and maybe not, but I think it’s the way you approach referees is important. Like anything in life really. It’s how you talk to people. Sometimes, the referees have a bad night. Just like players. For example, if I have a bad night, then offensive players have more opportunities to score. The only difference is my coach can bench me or have someone else fill in if I’m having an off night. The referees do not have that option which makes it that much more difficult. There is no relief for them on the bench. They’re out there for the night, and there’s no coming off the floor. And leads into my next point. The grey area/subjective calls are a nightmare. The NBA has the grey area of the shooting foul. The rule is so flawed. Like if the defender jumps in the air, you can jump into him and chuck the ball at the net. You’re going to the free throw line for 2 shots. If you score, you go for 1. Did the defensive player hinder the offensive players shot? Now players are looking for the call, so if they get their defender to jump, the offensive player automatically jumps into them. They’re not really trying to score. They’re taking advantage of the rules. I guess that’s sports, right? “You don’t notice the referee during the game until they make a bad call” - Drew Curtis I ask this - what is a moving pick? Is it when the defender falls over? Is it when the offensive player takes a run at the defender? Is it when the offensive player doesn’t plant his feet? This is a grey area call in the game. I think, for the most part, the referees do a great job, but it doesn’t matter. Someone won’t like the call and they’re going to hear about it. The subjective calls in sport will only lead to difficult conversations for referees to follow. And I will say this - an argument can be made that some referees have their own agenda. Nobody, besides their mothers, comes to the game to watch the referees. Harsh, I know, but it’s true. I will say this - I think we have some good referees in the league, but I also think we have some bad ones too. However, with that being said, we need to do a better job of supporting their pathway to develop. Like players, how do the NLL referees develop? Games for both players and referees are the best way to improve and gain experience. The Arena Lacrosse League and CLA Sr. A/B isn’t enough. They need game experience. That’s the only way they're going to improve, so we need to find different ways and come up with solutions to better support our referees. I think about this on the same front at the minor level. If minor lacrosse doesn’t have good refs or coaches, then it’s very difficult to ‘grow the game’ and develop everyone involved in the game - players, coaches and especially referees! I don’t have any solutions on the top of my head, but I’ll be involved down the road - you can count on that. My final thoughts - be kind to referees. They don’t get the credit they deserve and referees need to be the best communicators, and that doesn’t happen through a referee course. It takes time and patience. Referees need to develop just as much as players. Hey, NLL, I’m speaking directly to you. Please find a way to make it happen. If you retweet this, I’ll assume you’ve heard my call. Thanks. Until next time, Luc Magnan Halifax Thunderbirds #45
The Covid-19 Survival Kit For Athletes
The Covid-19 Survival Kit For Athletes
Covid-19 sucks. Have I said that before? Yes, I have, and yes, that hasn’t changed - Covid-19 does suck. However, we can’t let that define us. We can’t let that hinder our way of life. Yes, there are some things we haven’t been able to control. Different restrictions the government has implemented. Not being able to play sports. Social gatherings. Small businesses not being able to do their thing. The list goes on. So the real question is - what can we control? And yes, I know how cliché this is, but it’s true.
Let’s focus on the positives and what we can control. Things here in Ontario, Nova Scotia, other provinces and around the world are starting to open up. Vaccines are on the horizon and we have to remain patient.
Dan Noble is our High Performance Coach with the Halifax Thunderbirds. In my opinion, he’s one of the best in the business. He works with many professional athletes including: Mitch Marner, Marie Phillp Poulin, Laura Stacey, Anthony Cerilli, Michael Dal Cole and Natalie Spooner and many more, but that’s just to name a few. However, he works with all ages of athletes too. I’ve been lucky enough to see it first hand. I would say that Dan’s big focus with athletes is movement and understanding your body. He’s really helped me throughout my career and has propelled me to where I am today.
Recently, Dan put together a Covid-19 Survival Kit For Athletes. What does this mean? And, what did this entail? Dan brought together a variety of guest speakers that are: presidents, CEO’s, doctors, sport coaches, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, psychiatrists and more. So many great people from different different parts of the world with many different backgrounds. It was such a great day. There were so many amazing people sending out so many amazing messages. I was proud to be a part of this and help Dan. It was one of those events that after one person speaks, you’re just blown away and can’t imagine it getting any better or to the level of the previous speaker. It was just that. Everyone had great messages and I’m going to share a couple with you today.
Mark Shapiro. What an amazing person. He was so real and so authentic. No wonder the Toronto Blue Jays are back to be a contending World Series club. You can just by listening to him speak that he is the right man for the job. He had a way with words. It was simple, yet he was moving. He spoke about connecting with people. Be empathic. As a coach the importance of connecting with your athletes. So really during this time of difficulty, it’s about reaching out and asking for help. Connect with friends and family. You’re not alone. Plus, there’s so many ways to connect with people. Don’t make excuses for not being able to connect / see people.
My favourite thing Mark said was “show up”. My good friend, Reilly O’Connor, who played for the New England Blackwolves, now the Albany NLL franchise, talks about this a lot too. Show up. Whether that’s a virtual workout with your team or friends. Sticking to your schedule and your routine. Eliminate the excuses and the distractions. This difficult time presents an opportunity, so if you can ‘show up’, good things are going to happen.
Brodie Merrill, legend and player for the San Diego Seals, talked about managing stress. Surround yourself with good people. Create a good environment for yourself. Eliminate distractions. Refining your systems. All things that are so important. Not only for now while we can’t do normal things, but so important when we do get back to normal. These are little things, but can be so impactful on an athlete's life right now.
Here’s my list of things I’ve tried to focus on, heard people do, or I thought was willing to share. So here are the SparkNotes:
The light is at the end of the tunnel. Hold on. You can do this.
If you have a good routine, stick to it. If you don’t have a routine, get one.
Just show up. Whatever it is that you’re doing. Then, when you do show up, how do you put in the effort when you do show up
Connect with people or reconnect with people. Don’t let Covid-19 be an excuse.
Use this time as an opportunity to try new things. Find ways to challenge yourself.
Take time for yourself. Focus on your health and well-being
Get back to the basics. Refine your skills. That might be as easy as playing wall ball again. When’s the last time you played wall ball?
Reading. Journaling, meditating.
Family time. I know I said connect and reconnect, but take that time to talk with your family. Text/call/FaceTime your loved ones. Don’t take it for granted.
Working out at your house. You don’t need weights to workout
What's the common theme here? Self-improvement
Covid-19 isn’t a crutch (yes, it’s taken lives and many things away from us, but I’m looking at it with a positive perspective). It’s an opportunity for so many other things. However you decide to look at it is up to you. And trust me, I know everyone is tired of the restrictions and want things to go back to normal, I sure do. But like I’ve said before, I’m hopeful. And if anyone is ever feeling down in the dumps, please reach out to a friend or family member to chat. Heck, you can reach out to me, and I'll always listen. We’re all in this together.
That’s it for me on this Monday. The last article coming out is by far my favourite. I’m excited to share it with you. But before I go, a few more things.
Firstly, This is my second last article. I hope to pick this up in the near future with more positive news on the horizon. Maybe the first article back will be the Covid-19 Survivor Kit!
Secondly, I’m very thankful and grateful for Curt and the Thunderbirds for allowing me to share some thoughts and put things down on paper. Lastly, I have to give a huge shoutout to my friend, Charlie Ragusa for helping me through this. He’s spent countless hours I’m sure editing these articles, hopping on phone calls with me, and someone I’ve been able to bounce ideas off of. Thank you, brother.