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Box Lacrosse 101


Box lacrosse is played inside the confines of an ice hockey rink, with glass and rink boards intact. The playing surface consists of a green dieter turf carpet that is laid down over the hockey ice. Combined, teams score an average of 25 goals during an NLL game.

Each game consists of four fifteen-minute quarters. A tie at the end of regulation is decided in sudden-victory overtime. Each team has five runners (forwards, transition players, and defensemen) and a goaltender on the floor during the game. Each team dresses 19 players (17 runners and two goaltenders) per game, and the players rotate on and off the floor in shifts, similar to ice hockey.

History of Box Lacrosse

Lacrosse is a traditional indigenous people’s game and was first encountered by Europeans when French Jesuit missionaries in the St. Lawrence Valley witnessed the game in the 1630s. Lacrosse for centuries was seen as a key element of cultural identity and spiritual healing to Native Americans.

Box lacrosse is a modern version of the game that was invented in Canada during the 1920s and 1930s. The roots of indoor lacrosse are obscure, but its invention has been attributed to one Paddy Brennan, a field lacrosse player and referee from Montreal, who, being annoyed by the constant slowing of play from balls going out of bounds in the field game, experimented with indoor games at the Mount Royal Arena during the early 1920s.

The form was also adopted as the primary version of the game played on Native American reservations in the US and Canada by Iroquois and other Native peoples. It is the only sport in which the American indigenous people are sanctioned to compete internationally, participating as the Haudenosaunee Nationals.

Sources: World Lacrosse, Harvard, Peterborough Examiner

NLL Rules

Rosters: 21-man active roster, each team dresses 19 players for games (17 runners and two goalies). A team shall be composed of six players on the floor, five runners, and one goalie.

Time Format: Four 15-minute quarters; two minutes between quarters; 15-minute halftime.

Timeouts: Each team may take one 45-second timeout per half.

Sudden-Victory Overtime: Games ending regulation play with a tie score are decided by a sudden-victory overtime period. Play continues until a goal is scored. More than one overtime period is played if necessary.

8-Second Violation: Occurs when the team on offense fails to advance the ball past midfield within 8 seconds after taking possession at their end of the floor.

Face-Offs: To determine possessions at the start of each quarter and after every goal, two players face their sticks at midfield with a game official placing the ball between the heads of the sticks. A small scrum usually occurs to secure the ball.

Shot Clock: Similar to professional and collegiate basketball, a 30-second clock begins counting down when a team assumes possession of the ball. The offensive team must put a shot on goal during that time or they will lose possession. If they shoot on goal without scoring and recover possession of the ball (via rebound/loose ball recovery off the goaltender or goal posts), the clock is reset for a new 30 seconds.

Terms of the Turf

Body Check: Used to slow an opponent who has the ball; must be above the waist and below the neck.

Breakaway: One-on-one (shooter on goalie) scoring opportunity.

Cradle: Skill used to keep the ball inside the pocket of the stick by rocking it back and forth.

Crease: Nine-foot radius surrounding the goal. Only the goalie can stand in this area with the ball. Shooters or their teammates can not stand on (or inside) the line or their goal won’t count. Any violation of this rule will disallow the goal. If a player is diving into the crease on a shot, the ball has to cross the goal line before any part of their body touches the crease.

Crosscheck: A defensive strategy using the shaft of the stick to push on an opponent to force a missed or bad shot.

Hidden Ball Play: A player without the ball cradles his stick, drawing the attention of the defense, while a teammate who has the ball passes or shoots on net.

Loose Ball: Occurs when there is no possession and the ball is bouncing, rolling, or rebounding off the boards or goaltender. Loose ball recoveries are a tracked statistic.

Loss of Possession: Illegal screens, 30-second shot clock violation, 8-second half-court violation, loose ball push, and illegal procedure during faceoffs are among the acts that can cause a team to lose possession of the ball without sending a player to the penalty box.

Major Penalty: Five minutes in the penalty box for infractions such as high sticking, boarding, face masking, fighting, and spearing. Two goals can be scored during a major penalty before the offending team will be back to full strength. The offending player will remain in the penalty box until the five-minute duration has passed.

Man Down: When a team has one less player on the floor than their opponent.

Minor Penalty: Two-minute penalty for infractions such as delay of game, elbowing, holding, illegal crosschecking, slashing, and tripping, for example. The team with the man advantage can score one goal before the offending team is back to full strength and the offending player is released from the penalty box.

Offensive Pick: The legal interference by an offensive player from a set position on a defensive player who is trying to defend the ball carrier.

Outlet Pass: The first pass from the goaltender or defender that begins the transition from defense to offense.

Penalty Box: Where a player goes to sit while serving a minor or major penalty.

Power Play: When a team has an extra man advantage because the other team has at least one player in the penalty box

Screen Shot: When the goaltender can’t see a shot because someone is in the way.

Shorthanded: When a team has one or more players in the penalty box and the opponent is at full-strength or has more players on the floor.

Play of the Game

Minor Penalties: On two-minute personal fouls, the penalized player is released from the penalty box if a goal is scored before the expiration of the two minutes.

Major Penalties: On five-minute major personal fouls, the penalized player stays in the box for the duration of the penalty, though the offending team returns to full strength if two goals are scored against them during the five minutes. When a second major penalty is imposed on the same player in a game, an automatic game misconduct penalty shall be imposed.

Use of Penalty Shot: Since a team cannot be more than two men down at a time, if a third penalty is called, the official will award a penalty shot to the non-offending team.

Ejection from Game: Players can be ejected from a game for several reasons including being the third man participating in a fight or accumulating two major penalties in one game.

Slow Whistle (Delayed Penalty): If a defending player commits a minor or major penalty against an opponent in possession of the ball, the 30-second shot clock expires, or a goal is scored or possession is gained by the non-offending team.

Coincidental Penalties: When each team is given the same amount of penalty time arising out of the same incident, the offending players shall not be released until the expiration of the penalty. Teams do not lose floor strength, and the ball is awarded to the team who was in possession prior to the fouls.

Floor: Indoor lacrosse is played on a hockey rink covered by an artificial turf playing surface, which is usually referred to as the floor or the carpet (as opposed to the field). There must be boards around the sides of a minimum height of 3′ high. Dimensions are 200′ x 85′ but may be altered.

Goals: are 4′ (high) x 4’9″ (wide). The circle around the goal known as the crease is 9’3″ in diameter. An offensive player is not allowed to step into the crease area.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many teams are in the NLL?

    The NLL consists of 15 teams spanning North America. The NLL has franchises in Albany, Buffalo, Calgary, Colorado, Georgia, Halifax, Las Vegas, New York, Panther City (Fort Worth, TX), Philadelphia, Rochester, San Diego, Saskatchewan, Toronto, and Vancouver.

  • How many games does each team play during the regular season?

    Each NLL team plays 18 regular-season games, nine at home and nine on the road. The season traditionally starts in early December and runs through April. Playoffs begin in May.

  • Where can I watch NLL games?

    Outside of attending NLL games live, fans can watch their favorite teams on ESPN for fans based in the United States or TSN for Canadian fans. Every NLL game will be on ESPN+ with some games being aired on one of ESPN’s linear networks. TSN will have all NLL games via TSN+ and streaming platforms as well as a Game of the Week on their linear channels.

    Previous NLL games are archived on the NLL’s YouTube page.

  • Is box lacrosse just field lacrosse but indoors?

    The objective of the game, much of the equipment, and some of the terminology is the same but that is where it ends. A team is trying to outscore their opponent, all players (outside of the goalie) use short-shaft lacrosse sticks (no long poles), and there are picks, seals, crease violations, faceoffs, and more.

    The biggest differences are in the spacing. Playing in a hockey rink with confined boards and glass limits the space the players have to utilize. There are fewer players on the floor at a time than on a field and the pace is quicker due to the smaller play area and a shorter shot clock.

    The goals are much smaller (4’x4’9”) versus field and the goalie wears more padding in box lacrosse. That, along with the smaller spacing, usually makes for players’ accuracy and handling skills being more advanced than in field. Unlike field, box players will typically only use their dominant hand.

    If you are a field lacrosse fan, a lot of elements will look similar, with the obvious changes being game play structure and pace. Many players play both field and box lacrosse, the skills gained in one version of the game translates well to the other.

  • What is a sock trick?

    Many have heard of a hat trick which is when a player scores three goals in a hockey or lacrosse game. A sock trick is when a player scores six goals in a game. The legend goes that the Colorado Mammoth started the sock trick in 2004 when Gary Gait scored six goals in a game and the fans started throwing their socks on the turf. The Mammoth were penalized for a delay of game penalty with less than a minute remaining. Gary Gait served the penalty.

  • Why do goalies wear so much protective equipment?

    Have you ever felt a lacrosse ball? A lacrosse ball is a very dense rubber ball. Professional lacrosse players can shoot the ball upwards of 100mph given clear space. Because of the smaller environment of box lacrosse, goalies wear this equipment to best protect themselves from any potential injuries when saving a shot with their body. Box goalies usually save the ball with their body versus field lacrosse, where a goalie typically saves using their stick.

  • Why do players usually substitute after each possession?

    The game of lacrosse has evolved over the years. At one point, many players played both offense and defense. Over time however, strategy changed and players began to specialize on either offense or defense. This allowed for skills on that side of the floor to develop further and increase the pace of play as players are able to get more rest in between possessions versus having to run all the way down the floor.

    While in hockey there is usually a combination of forwards and defensemen on a shift in a given time, in box lacrosse, there is usually either five forwards or five defensemen on the floor at a given time depending on if the team has possession of the ball or not. Once there is a change of possession, players will usually run to the bench to get the next set of runners on the floor.

  • What is a crease violation?

    A crease violation occurs in several ways. One is when an offensive player comes into contact with any part of the crease while cradling the ball. A crease violation can also occur when an offensive player runs through the crease and is the next person to touch the ball. When shooting on goal, as long as the ball is beyond the goal line before any part of the player’s body touches the ground, it is a good goal. If the offensive player lands in the crease before the ball is beyond the goal line, the goal will not count.

    The defense can be called as well for a violation. This occurs when either the goaltender or a defender gains possession of the ball outside of the crease and runs through the crease when trying to advance the ball down the floor.

  • Is fighting allowed?

    Yes, with a caveat. Fighting can occur during lacrosse but both players will receive penalties (usually a five-minute major). The game officials have the discretion to call additional penalties depending on the incident. Additional fines and suspensions can occur as a result of a fight.

  • What happens if the goal moves on a shot?

    Unlike hockey, the goals aren’t staked into the ground. They are still difficult to move but a goalie may accidentally move the goal off its mark. If this occurs and a ball is shot on net, the ball must cross the goal line (where the goal normally sits). A goal can be counted if the goal is not in its primary position. Arenas have cameras above the goal to help check if the ball crossed the line where the goal would have been.

  • How do game officials determine whether an infraction is a change of possession or a penalty?

    Game officials use their discretion as to whether an infraction is worthy of a penalty or just a change of possession. A change in possession is less serious in nature, considered a statistical turnover, and both teams remain at full strength. Minor penalties result in a two minute penalty where the offending team will go one man down. Major penalties result in a five minute penalty.

  • Does music play over gameplay?

    Yes! Music is constantly playing during NLL games, adding to the fast-paced and exciting atmosphere throughout the league. Unlike basketball, music plays constantly and varies throughout the league. It adds a unique character to the game and keeps fans engaged through the night. The PA announcer also has a role in the game through calling penalties or goals and frequently gets the crowd hyped for their team!

  • How do the playoffs work?

    A total of eight NLL teams qualify for the playoffs. The top three seeds from the West Conference and the top four teams from the East Conference will qualify for the playoffs. The eighth playoff slot will go to the team with the better record between the fifth place East and fourth place West teams, per NLL tiebreaker rules. Round one of the playoffs will be a single elimination and have the following matchups: 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 in each Conference. Should the fifth best team in the East make the playoffs, they will be seeded as the fourth place team in the West.

    The four winning teams from the first round will play in the best-of-three second round series. Round one winning teams will stay in their designated Conferences for round two of the playoffs. The higher seeds will host Game 1 and Game 3 (if necessary).

    The NLL Cup Finals is a best-of-three series, with the higher-seeded team hosting Game 1 and Game 3 (if necessary)

  • I saw many NLL players playing for other lacrosse leagues, how does that work?

    Because of the shortened season time compared to sports like the MLB, NHL, or NBA, players are able to play in multiple lacrosse leagues throughout the year to hone their skills and grow the game. Since lacrosse is a year round sport, there are always games happening with the best players in the world!

Think Inside the Box

Hear from current and former NLL players and college coaches about how box lacrosse has made them better athletes, lacrosse players, and more.