The National Lacrosse League dates all the way back to 1986 when the league was started by two dedicated visionaries as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. It was rebranded to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and fast forward to where we are today—the National Lacrosse League with 15 franchises across the U.S. and Canada.
To celebrate the long history of the NLL, take a look at 35 incredible moments in league history. We will be showing one moment for each week starting on March 13, 2021. These moments will be some of the best highlights, games, milestones, individuals and performances from 35 years of history. Click each moment below to learn more.
Russ Cline and Chris Fritz (both inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame in 2006) founded and co-owned the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. They were exposed to box lacrosse from a video tape of the original National Lacrosse League from 1974-75 season and thought it would be the sport of the future. They tested the interest for box lacrosse in 1985 by hosting an eight-game series in which Team USA and Team Canada traveled to various markets.
The League was founded with four franchises: Baltimore Thunder, New Jersey Saints Philadelphia Wings, and Washington Wave
The Philadelphia Wings won their first Championship in the third season of the NLL (then known as the MILL) versus the New York Saints in front of a then-record crowd of over 16,000 fans at the Spectrum. The Wings would hold on to win 11-10. This win catapulted the Wings fanbase as well as established the first dynasty in the league. The Wings would go on to play in nine of the next 13 Championships, winning six in the process. NLL Hall of Fame member, Class of 2010, John Tucker, would be Championship game MVP with 5 points (1g, 4a). Those six championships (now connected to the Albany FireWolves franchise due to relocation) are tied for most in league history with the Toronto Rock.
Syracuse University legends Paul and Gary Gait were assigned to a Detroit Turbos team coming off a 1-7 season and turned them around to an 8-2 championship winning team (+48 goal differential). Their impact was immediately felt across the league and would for years to come. Gary led the league in assists (36) and points (68) while twin brother, Paul led the league in goals scored (47 – still the NLL rookie record). Gary won Rookie of the Year as well as Championship Game MVP (3g, 3a) during their rookie seasons. Their first game was a 20-16 win over the Baltimore Thunder and by season’s end they were both First Team All-NLL.
The Buffalo Bandits made their debut in 1992 as the 7th team, an expansion team in 1992. With the first pick in the entry draft, they selected Darris Kilgour. After an 0-3 start, Les Bartley stepped in as coach to help turn the team’s fortunes around. They won their final eight gameson their way to winning a title in their inaugural season. Three players from Buffalo were named Second Team All-NLL (Kilgour, Derek Keenan and Jim Veltman). Veltman was a rookie and led the league in loose balls while his fellow rookie teammate, Keenan won the Rookie of the Year award.
Fellow rookie, John Tavares scored the game winning goal in overtime with a behind the back shot and was named Championship MVP (4g, 1a), launching his legendary career in the NLL. The Bandits did go back-to-back, winning in 1993 too on their way to a 22-game win streak, starting the moment Les Bartley took over as head coach after the 0-3 start in 1992.
The MILL was a single entity league, with all teams (six or seven teams) being owned by a group of owners, led by top executives, Chris Fritz and Russ Cline. A few disgruntled individuals were in talks to start a rival league with a more traditional ownership style to further invest in their individual teams. Two owners of teams in the MILL decided they wanted to branch off and create their own league, the National Lacrosse League. After the Buffalo, Syracuse, and Boston franchises committed to the NLL, as well as star players Gary and Paul Gait among others, the two leagues agreed on a merger under the name, National Lacrosse League as we know it today. The agreement came to unify the sport and have the best talent and teams all in one place. In the merger, the Boston Blazers folded but two new teams made their debuts in the 1998 season, the Syracuse Smash and Ontario Raiders. John Livsey, Jr. was named as the first Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League. Below is an evolution of the EPBLL, MILL, and NLL logos over time.
An NLL record 19,432 fans would pack Scotiabank Arena to watch the Rock win their 5th championship versus the Arizona Sting, 19-13. Colin Doyle and Blaine Manning would lead the way with 8 points each (5g, 3a and 3g, 5a respectively). Hall of Fame goalie Bob Watson would record the win and fellow Hall of Famer, Colin Doyle, would sweep regular season scoring champion with 111 points, along with league MVP and Finals MVP. The Rock would score five straight goals from the 3rd to the 4thto break open a one-goal game. The next two highest attended games in league history were also championship games (2001 in TOR and 2004 in CAL).
The National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame was established to honor those who have made immeasurable contributions to the league and the sport of lacrosse. As of 2016, there are 27 members in the NLL Hall of Fame. Below is more information on the five charter members of the Hall of Fame.
Russ Cline and Chris Fritz helped found the original Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League (now NLL) in 1986. Neither had experience with box lacrosse but saw highlights of the old NLL (1974-75) and considered it the “sport of the future”. Their vision eventually led to the rebrand to Major Indoor Lacrosse League and eventually the National Lacrosse League as we know it today.
Fritz and Cline would eventually be co-owners of the Philadelphia Wings once the ownership model was introduced. The Wings continue to be one of the most successful and well-known franchises in the NLL
Paul and Gary Gait were undoubtedly the first “superstars” of the National Lacrosse League. The twins from British Columbia would take the league by storm by winning awards and setting all sorts of records on their way to being the first NLL players inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Some of their notable achievements include:
7 MVP’s (6x Gary, 1x Paul)
11x leading league in goals scored (4x Paul, 7x Gary)
Each have a share for most goals in a game (10)
22x 1st Team All-NLL Selections (14x Gary, 8x Paul)
6 Championship rings (3 each)
Les Bartley passed away prior to his induction to the Hall of Fame after an 18 month battle with colon cancer but became the first coach inducted and deservedly so. He took over the expansion Bandits franchise after an 0-3 start and led them to a 22-game winning streak (including back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993).
From 1992-1997 with the Bandits, Bartley recorded a 36-13 regular season record. In 1998, he took over the expansion Ontario Raiders (now Toronto Rock). His first season in Ontario was his worst as a coach with a 6-6 record. From 1998-2003 with the Raiders/Rock, Bartley recorded a 57-25 record.
Bartley would finish his career with a regular season record of 93-38 (.710-win percentage) and a post season record of 18-4 (.818-win percentage). He would get his teams to 11 championship games and win seven (1992, 1993, and 1996 with BUF and 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2003 with TOR). The Coach of the Year award was named in his honor.
The class was inducted on 2-23-2006 during All-Star Game weekend in Toronto.
Gary Gait set the single season scoring record in 2003, with 61 goals (in a 16-game season), being the first player to surpass 60 in a season. Athan Iannucci was only in his second season in the NLL and recorded 3 sock tricks during the season. He tallied at least three goals in every game during the 2008 MVP campaign, averaging 4.43 goals per game in a 16-game season.
He would break the record with two games remaining and eventually get to 70. He became the second player to surpass 60 goals in a season and first to surpass 70. Of his 253 shots on goal, 71 went in (.281 shot percentage). Iannucci recorded 5 game winning goals, 17 power play goals, and 5 shorthanded goals in the 2008 season. He was unable to replicate his success from the 2008 season, never tallying more than 61 points in a season through his remaining NLL career.
Mark Steenhuis recorded 101 points in the 2009 season (4th in the NLL), 17 of those would come on one night versus the Toronto Rock. The Bandits would chase legend goalie Bob Watson out of net by the end of the first half and would lead 12-5 (Steenhuis recording 8 points in the half). Watson was pulled 4:48 into the game after giving up 3 goals, but returned at3:42 into the 2nd quarter. He was pulled for good at 10:15 of the 3rd after giving up consecutive goals to Steenhuis. By the end of the 3rd quarter, it was 19-7.
Steenhuis would score 4 goals and tally 13 assists by games end (single game record for assists). Toronto had 16 assists total in the 25-10 final. Steenhuis would record four assists to John Tavares, four to Roger Vyse, two to Cory Bomberry, two to Kevin Dostie and one to Sean Greenhalgh. He also led the game with 11 loose ball recoveries, all in front of 18,690 fans in Banditland.
The longest game in NLL history took over 76 minutes to determine a winner between the Boston Blazers and Orlando Titans. One full overtime period of 15 minutes was not enough time to decide a winner although there were a couple of times it looked like there was a game winner (including a waved off goal from Dan Dawson for stepping in the crease in the first OT). Anthony Cosmo and Matt Vinc played the full game in net for each team.
Boston scored two goals in the final :30 of regulation (including one with :01 remaining) to tie the game to get into overtime. Boston’s Sean Morris would score the game winner (one of only four goals on the season for him). There were 53 penalty minutes assessed throughout this game, but only two in overtime.
Lacrosse legend, Casey Powell played sparingly throughout the first few years of his career after being drafted first overall by the Rochester Knighthawks in 1998. From 2004-2011, excluding 2006, he committed to playing in the NLL and made a huge impact. He made three All-Pro First Teams (2008-2010) and one Second Team appearance (2007).
Coming off an impressive 2009 where Casey Powell would score 40 goals in the regular season and add 10 goals 11 assists in three games in the postseason, the Titans would hold Buffalo to three goals total in the East Division Final but eventually lose in the championship game. Expectations would be high in 2010 and Powell delivered, scoring 44 goals in 2010 (career high, 2nd in the NLL, over 25% of all team goals in 14 games) and total 80 points in the one season of the Orlando Titans existence, earning him MVP honors. The next leading goal scorer for Orlando had 22 goals. Orlando would win their division and tie the best record in the league (11-5) with stellar defense and goaltending (a league best of 154 goals allowed). Although the MVP is based on regular season performance, Powell would add six goals and four assists in two playoff games in 2010 before falling to Toronto in the East Division Final. Powell is still the only American to win the MVP.
John Grant Jr. went on a tear in 2012 to win his second MVP award of his career (2007) at age 37. Although the schedule was 16 games, he only played in 14 games (equivalent to the last record set by John Tavares in 2001 at 115 points). Grant Jr. would lead the league in goals scored (50) and a career high with 66 assists to set the new single season scoring record at 116 points. He would have 4 games with 10+ points, never scoring less than 6. He averaged 8.29 points per game. He had 12 straight games recording at least a hattrick for the highest scoring offense in the league. Grant Jr. would set the record with a powerplay goal with less than 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter of the final game of the season.
The previous single season assist record was 74 set in 2009 by Dan Dawson and Josh Sanderson. Garrett Billings in his third NLL season would break that record with 82. He had 8 games of 6+ assists, including a season high 11 on March 31, 2012 at Buffalo (where he would either score or assist on all their teams’ goals that game; the only player to accomplish this where a team scored 10+ goals in a game). He either scored or assisted on 58% of all Rock goals through the season. Billings would break the record the week before against Philadelphia with a powerplay assist to Josh Sanderson in the second quarter. He averaged 5.125 assists per game through the 16 game season and would finish with 114 points total.
For over 10 years, the Colorado Mammoth have hosted Lacrosse Out Cancer, an event to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer. One of the game night traditions is to put the names of individuals affected by cancer on the player’s jerseys. On this night, Sean Pollock wore his wife’s name, Jenna, on his jersey. Jenna was diagnosed and beat breast cancer in 2012.
The Mammoth were playing the Roughnecks in a wild game in front of over 17,000 fans at The Loud House. Calgary jumped to a 5-0 lead into the second quarter but Colorado stormed back with nine straight goals. Calgary scored the final four goals to tie the game at nine—forcing the game into OT. Pollock would score his third goal on the night, the deciding goal at 3:05 into OT to give the Mammoth the win.
In 2021, Jenna discovered her cancer had returned and was recently diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. A Go Fund Me has been set up to help the Pollock’s as they go through their second battle with this disease.
The Colorado Mammoth was down by five entering the fourth quarter versus the Vancouver Stealth. Adam Jones had been held scoreless entering the last frame (0g, 0a). Trailing 9-4 in the fourth quarter, Jones would score five consecutive goals, to tie the game at 9 before scoring his sixth of the quarter with 2 seconds remaining to give Colorado an 11-10 lead. This game would mark 55 straight games scoring a goal for Jones, tying teammate John Grant Jr’s league record.
2:38 into the fourth quarter, Jones scored his first goal, 2:48 into the frame he scored his second goal and by 3:05 into the fourth quarter he had his third on the night. He recorded a hat trickin a span of 27 seconds! He’d continue to stay hot, scoring two more goals by the 9:08 mark in the fourth, bringing the game to a tie at 9-9. Corey Small would score a goal for Vancouver to stop the streak and give the Stealth the lead once again. Callum Crawford would score (with a Jones assist) to bring the game to a tie again with just over four minutes to play. The Mammoth would have the final possession in regulation. With an extra attacker, Jones scored his sock trick goal with :02 remaining to seal the victory to the joy of the Loud House.
Jones would follow up this performance with a seven goal game the following week back in Colorado versus the New England Black Wolves to set the NLL record for consecutive games with a goal scored at 56 games.
Dhane Smith’s 2016 season was historic in many regards. He earned league MVP, being the first black player in league history to claim the title and was named First Team All-Pro while setting the NLL record for points and goals in one season. His regular season stats would end at 72 goals (NLL record), 65 assists (5th in NLL), 137 points (NLL record), 111 loose balls (career high), 12 caused turnovers (2nd among forwards) and 5 game winning goals (1st in NLL). The Bandits would finish atop the standings at 13-5.
To put his performance in perspective, Smith averaged 7.61 points per game (4 goals per game + 3.61 assists per game). He’d record 10+ points three times through the season and have 14 games where he’d score four or more goals. The Bandits led the league with 251 goals scored, and Smith would own 28.7% of all those goals.
On his way to the points record, Smith would set the record with 72 goals in one season, breaking the mark of 71 held by Athan Iannucci set in 2008. He would take a pass from Chad Culp at 9:22 of the second quarter to set the goals record against New England on 4-30-16.
Smith would break the single-season scoring record and finish the season with 137 points, topping the mark of Shawn Evans who had 130 in 2015. He would break Evan’s record by scoring an empty-net goal with six seconds left in a 15-13 win at Rochester on 4-23-16.
The former Rookie of the Year (1992) had a short playing career but a long-lasting coaching career. He is a 4x Les Bartley Coach of the Year award winner (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018) and a 3x GM of the Year award winner (2006, 2010, 2014). He finished coaching with a record of 151-109 (.581 win %) in the regular season. He also holds the throne for most wins in the playoffs by a coach with a 19-13 record (.594 win %), one more win than the legendary Les Bartley.
Keenan stepped away as the Rush Head Coach in 2020, but still remains as the team’s General Manager. He led the Rush tosix straight West Division titlesfrom 2014-2019 and was leading the division in 2020 prior to the season cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NLL, after a total rebrand two years earlier, created a new trophy to signify a new champion labeled, the NLL Cup. The trophy was introduced at the beginning of the playoffs and the winner in 2018 would be the first to hold this new and distinguished trophy. The Rush franchise would win the championship in 2015 (as Edmonton), 2016, and 2018. They would appear in the finals in 2017, but eventually lose to the Georgia Swarm.
During the 2015 Finals, the Rush would defeat the Toronto Rock in two straight games. Mark Matthews was named Series MVP with eight goals and six assists in the two games.
In 2016, the first season in Saskatchewan, the Rush would defeat the Bandits in two consecutive games. Aaron Bold was named Championship Series MVP, recording 90 saves on 109 shots (.826 SV%) while playing every minute of the series.
During the 2018 Finals, the Rush would win the series versus Rochester, 2-1, winning Game 3 by a score of 15-10. After a one assist performance in game one of the championship series, Jeff Shattler would be the spark for the Rush in Games 2 and 3, combining for 7g, 5a in the final two games and earning Series MVP. This was the first time in NLL history that a Championship would be decided by a third game (excluding mini games), and would be won in front of 13,645 fans in Saskatchewan redeeming their 2017 Finals loss.
Accolades for goaltender Matt Vinc are endless, the 16-year veteran is a 7x Goaltender of the Year, 7x First Team All-NLL, Career Wins leader (119), All-Time Minutes Leader (12,627 minutes, the equivalent to almost nine full days), 4x single season saves leader, and has scored one goal in his career. On January 5, 2019, Matt Vinc surpassed Anthony Cosmo for most saves in National Lacrosse League history in an incredible performance versus Rochester, only allowing four goals on 59 shots (.932 save percentage). Vinc and Cosmo are the only players to surpass 7,000 career saves, and now Vinc is the only player with 8,000 career saves (sitting currently at 8,299). In 12 straight seasons (2008-2019), he recorded more than 880 minutes and more than 560 saves per season.
Matt Vinc is also the All-Time Playoff leader in minutes played by a goaltender (1,805), saves (1,139), and wins (21). Vinc was with the Rochester Knighthawks during their three-peat from 2012-2014.
The NLL reached its’ 2,000th regular-season game in it’s 34th season in 2019, when on March 22, the Colorado Mammoth would defeat the Vancouver Warriors, 11-7 in Vancouver. Ryan Lee would lead the game with 7 points (4g, 3a) while Dillon Ward held the Warriors to 7 goals, saving 41 of 48 shots. The Mammoth would take a one goal lead into the 4th quarter and never look back, adding 3 goals to seal the victory.
The NLL celebrated it’s 1,000th regular season game in its’ 21st season, on March 31, 2007 with the Colorado Mammoth defeating the Minnesota Swarm, 11-9, in front of 10,114 fans in Minnesota. Gavin Prout would lead the Mammoth with 6 points (4g, 2a) in a game that would have 97 minutes of penalties. Minnesota got the game to within one goal with 14 seconds remaining, but Jamie Hanford would score the insurance winner with 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The San Diego Seals hosted a landmark event in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2020. Coinciding the NLL’s first ever Business Summit, they played Division rival, Colorado Mammoth, at Orleans Arena. Almost 5,000 fans came out to the venue to check out the first NLL action ever in Sin City.
The game was a back-and-forth affair until the momentum swung drastically in favor of the Seals with a full floor empty-net goal with :01 remaining before halftime by Brodie Merrill to give the Seals a two-goal lead. The Seals would score nine goals in the second half compared to Colorado’s four. The game would end up going in favor of the Seals, 17-10. Casey Jackson led the game with 8 points (5g, 3a).
The NLL confirmed in May of 2021 that the next expansion team, team number 15, will be awarded to the city of Las Vegas and will begin play in the 2022-23 season.
Can you find the jersey for every team in NLL history?
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