The Coaches and General Managers of the National Lacrosse League were on hand for the first ever Ontario Lacrosse Association Jr. A Combine on June 22, showcasing the best the province of Ontario had to offer come September's NLL Entry Draft. The all day event replaced the OLA's Jr. A All-Star Game and proved to be resounding success.
Former Buffalo, Toronto, and Ottawa GM Johnny Mouradian, current Toronto GM and Head Coach Les Bartley, and St. Catharines Jr. A Athletics GM Bob Luey were the men responsible for putting this first of its kind event together at the Bill Burgoyne Arena in St Catharines, Ontario.
The event was put together for really two main reasons. First of all it was designed to give NLL general managers and scouts a better look at some of the top studs coming into the upcoming draft. Although the JR. A All-Star game showcased a handful of the loop's top stars many of them were not eligible for that particular year's upcoming draft, while the combine is dedicated solely to those players intending on entering the draft.
Players from all over Ontario were subject to drills, which consisted of shooting, passing, odd-man transition and split decision situations. There were also skills competitions where agility was tested along with sprints, hardest shot, break away scoring, goaltender save percentage and defensive transition.
The combine also catered to the players who took in a seminar with a module on leadership, communication skills and goal setting with hopes to assist their preparation for the pros next year. "A few years ago a lot of these players were travelling to Buffalo with their families to catch a Bandits game and now they'll be playing against and with some of those guys they watched" said Mouradian, who after winning titles with Buffalo and Toronto knows how tough the professional game can be on some of these kids. "A transition like that can be overwhelming."
The day culminated in an All-Star Game between Team Knighthawks, coached by Rochester Knighthawks Head Coach Paul Day and Team Rock, which was coached by Les Bartley. Team Rock jumped out to an early lead going into the second period but were held scoreless for a number of long runs which allowed Team Knighthawks to take the lead in the third and never look back on their way to a 12-8 win.
The game was highlighted by a four-goal outburst by Peterborough Lakers captain Brad Self. Burlington Chiefs keeper Ryan Avery was named the game's MVP with a number of game defining saves in the third and final period, while Self and St. Catharines Athletics defenders Billy Dee Smith were given second billing in the night's "Three Star" selection.
The National Lacrosse League plans on holding the event each summer and hopes that the Western Lacrosse Association along with the JR. B circuit in both Ontario and BC do the same as the Ontario's Jr. A league did this summer. With the NLL growing on a variety of different fronts an event such as this one that allows for a greater accessibility of the players to the league's GMs and scouts is definitely a step in the right direction.
The NLL Entry Draft will be held in September, with the date and location to be announced shortly.