Written by Tom Borrelli for Lacrosse Magazine
Professional indoor lacrosse as we know it came along just a little too late for Johnny Mouradian the player.
But the timing was perfect for Mouradian the architect.
Frank Lloyd Wright, eat your heart out. No one has built more National Lacrosse League championship teams than Mouradian, who will be inducted into the league's Hall of Fame on Feb. 28 in Philadelphia.
"I would have wanted to play, sure," said Mouradian, the president, general manager and governor of the San Jose Stealth. "But knowing the way I played, I would have probably had a very short career, because I'd have gotten killed. I was always getting hurt - elbows, knees, something. I'd have found myself on IR (injured reserve) a lot."
The 55-year-old Mouradian was indeed a standout midfielder. He's already been enshrined into the Ithaca (N.Y.) College Hall of Fame for his efforts as a Bomber, as well as into the Canadian National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In 1978, he was a member of Team Canada, which pulled one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.
Team USA defeated Canada, 28-4, in round-robin play at the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) World Championships that year in Manchester, England, but the Canadians came back to shock Team USA, 17-16, in the championship game. Team USA didn't lose again in that competition until Canada pulled the trick again in 2006.
"That game was particularly pleasant, because we had just started field lacrosse in Canada," said Mouradian, who attended high school in St. Catharines, Ontario. "At first, we were basically playing box lacrosse outside. But by 1978, we had some quality people with field experience and we were able to put it all together."
Mouradian the architect has built NLL teams with a similar knack.
He has been the general manager of five NLL championship squads, more than any other man in the league's 22-year history.
Mouradian's involvement in the NLL began with the Pittsburgh Bulls in the early `90s, about five years after he'd put away his stick as a player. His best friend, current Philadelphia Wings executive vice president, owner and alternate governor and fellow NLL Hall of Famer Mike French, had spent one year as a player with the Wings before moving upstairs. Mouradian was also friends with Dave Evans, who was Philadelphia's head coach at the time.
"I was one of their (Pittsburgh's) scouts, and they had a lot of guys at that time who were new to the indoor game," said Mouradian, who was the NLL's GM of the Year in 2004, when the Stealth went 11-5 and made the playoffs. "I was basically giving them pointers to help the U.S. players in the transition to box lacrosse."
When the Buffalo Bandits were born in the fall of 1991, it was a match made in heaven for Mouradian, who spent much of his childhood right across the Niagara River in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
He and coach Les Bartley, who Mouradian had been close with since their high school days, put together a squad of Bandits that won championships in 1992, '93 and '96.
"That game with Team Canada is right up there with our first championship in Buffalo," said Mouradian, referring to the Bandits' 11-10 overtime win at Philadelphia in the '92 championship game, secured on a picturesque behind-the-neck goal by John Tavares, then a 23-year-old rookie.
Buffalo won its final eight games in 2002, all 10 in a championship encore in '93 and the first four in '94. That 22-game winning streak hadn't been seriously threatened until the '07 champion Rochester Knighthawks won their last 15 plus their opener this season. It remains intact.
After Philadelphia's two year run of 1994-95, the Bandits reclaimed the title in '96. Buffalo qualified for the playoffs in all six of Mouradian's seasons with the Bandits.
But it wasn't long until another challenge awaited.
A Diamond in the Rock
When the NLL finally expanded into Canada in 1998, Mouradian and Bartley shuffled off from Buffalo and started another dynasty.
After one .500 season based in Hamilton's Copps Coliseum as the Ontario Raiders, the team moved down the Queen Elizabeth Way to Maple Leaf Gardens, and the Toronto Rock won the first of five championships in the next seven years.
"It was equally as satisfying," Mouradian said, when asked to compare the Toronto experience to his days in Buffalo. "Anytime you can win a championship, it's absolutely great. When Les and I were able to do it in Canada, that was a lot of fun and very, very challenging. Just like that first season in Buffalo, we saw the attendance rise with the team's success. Filling Maple Leaf Gardens seemed just like being in the old Aud (Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium, which closed in `96).
"It was really rewarding to be able to make such an impact in the Toronto market. It certainly wasn't all us. The lacrosse community really helped make it happen, really got aboard the Toronto Rock's bandwagon."
Mouradian's teams have gone 122-85 and made the playoffs in 11 of his 15 seasons as an NLL general manager. Once in the postseason, his squads have posted a 17-6 record.
Two of his Stealth teams have gone to the playoffs, including last season's unit that started 2-4 but won eight of its last 10 to qualify. San Jose finished 10-6 before upsetting the Colorado Mammoth, 15-14, on the road in overtime in the West Division semifinals.
On the West Coast, Mouradian said, the challenges are far different than the obstacles he met while battling the winter snowflakes in Ithaca, Buffalo and Toronto.
"This is another great chance to build a championship organization," said Mouradian, whose Stealth is 3-3 and currently in second place in the West. "We're very excited about our future and the future of lacrosse in the Bay Area."
Had Bartley not died of colon cancer at the age of 51 on May 15, 2005 - just hours after the Rock captured its most recent NLL championship - the two friends might have united again for a third kick at the Champion's Cup.
"Les had another year left on his contract in Toronto, and we had always talked about hooking up again," Mouradian said. "We had a spot ready for him here when he was willing and ready. I think it would have been a perfect opportunity for him to not worry about anything but winning lacrosse games and enjoying the great weather in a new market."
Mouradian, who will be presented by French at the induction ceremony, will always hold a special place in his heart for Bartley, who was part of the NLL's inaugural class of Hall of Famers in `06.
"What we accomplished, we accomplished together," said Mouradian. "I could never have achieved what I did without someone who could carry the load on the coaching staff. We worked so well together, our friendship was never put at stake over anything we did in lacrosse.
"I owe so much to Les."
Before the winningest coach in NLL history left us - far too soon - he made his opinions regarding Mouradian well-known.
And the feeling was definitely mutual.