Following the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, the legendary Dan Dawson announced he will be retiring from the NLL and transitioning into an operations role with the Toronto Rock as the team’s Director of Player Development.
On his retirement, Dawson said “My time has come to an end, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my time in this league and this game. It’s my body and my family that are telling me I need to be home. I can’t perform at the level I’m accustomed to, and everyone expects from me at my age. Given everything that’s going on in my life, my energy and my efforts need to be redirected to the people that have supported me for over 20 years. And that’s the main reason why I’m shutting it down.”
The longest tenured player in the league last year played in his 21st season and for his ninth franchise at 41 years old. Once his retirement went public, a show of admiration for the one they call “Dangerous Dan” came pouring out from teammates, staff, fans, legends of the game, and even his fiercest opponents through the year’s.
His journey is not a simple one but the way he played the game looked simple for the well-respected veteran.
The 6’6 lengthy Dawson got his start as a sixth-round pick (68th overall) in the 2001 NLL Entry Draft to the Columbus Landsharks (even before some NLLers like Chris Origlieri were born). In his rookie campaign, he suited up for 11 games for the Landsharks, recording his first goals and assists of his career.
He broke onto the scene in his second season in Columbus, playing all 16 games with 28 goals and 24 assists.
From 2004-2007 Dawson would suit up for the Arizona Sting. In 2004, he led Arizona in assists with 48 and was second in points at 74. From there, his career continued to make progress. In 2005, 48 goals which would be one shy of the league lead held by John Grant Jr. In 2007 he recorded his first 100-point season with 107, finishing second to John Grant Jr with 111. Twice with the Sting he would make it to the NLL title game (2005 and 2007) but could not secure the crown.
He was selected to Portland with the LumberJax for 2008 after the Arizona Dispersal Draft, first overall, where again, his team would make it to the Finals but falling one goal shy. He led the team in goals, assists and points and finished second in loose ball recoveries with 96.
On the move again, this time up to Boston with the Blazers from 2009-2011. The 2009 season would be his MVP season, finishing with 30 goals, 74 assists for 104 points. He was tied for the league lead in assists, a new record at the time, and second in points behind Colin Doyle. The Blazers finished 10-6 but would be eliminated in the first round.
He spent two more seasons in Boston, each season making All-League First Team, before the team disbanded and he was selected by Philadelphia first overall in the 2011 Dispersal Draft. His one season with the Wings, he put up his third and final 100-point season, finishing with 103, third place behind Garrett Billings and John Grant Jr.
After his one season in Philadelphia, Dan, along with his brother Paul, were traded to Rochester where he finally got to lift the Champions Cup for winning the NLL championship. In 2013, he led the Knighthawks with 14 points in the three playoff games, with six goals and eight assists. In the championship game, he had a goal and four assists in the 11-10 win over Washington.
On who his favorite teammate was, Dan said his brother, Paul. “My brother is my best friend and he’s the ultimate teammate. He makes everyone play bigger and stronger. He would do anything for a win. I’m very lucky that I had a chance to win with him and be part of numerous championships with him both in the summer and the NLL. Those are the times. It was hard on my family when we were on different teams. It was awful. We’re both sore losers and we both take this game very seriously.”
He would get back-to-back titles in 2014 with the Knighthawks, the last of the teams three-peat. In the win or go home Game 2, Dawson led the team with seven points with three goals and four assists to force the mini-game right after. In that mini-game that Rochester won 3-2 over Calgary, Dawson had one assist but it came on the game winning goal from Craig Point. He earned Finals MVP in 2014.
In 2018, Dawson was traded to Saskatchewan where he won his third title, this time against his brother, Paul and the Rochester Knighthawks. Dan played in just Game 2, recording an assist.
He took his talents once more out West to join the upstart San Diego Seals in their inaugural season, turning back the clock and leading the team with 88 points and a 10-8 record. The Seals would lose in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion, Calgary Roughnecks.
The last stop in his career took him back home to the Toronto Rock for the COVID shortened 2019-20 season, finishing second on the team in points at 40 in 10 games played. In 2021-22 he would compete in 14 games, recording 45 points with 28 assists prior to his final season in 2022-23 with eight goals and 16 assists in 12 games.
The final game of his career was on May 13 but did not end the way fans would have liked with the Rock losing 17-8 to the Bandits. Dawson led the team with three assists.
Dan Dawson has seen a lot in his NLL career, both good and bad, but always put on a show whatever venue he played in or with whatever logo was on his jersey. He inspired the next generation of lacrosse players and served as one of the best mentors and examples in the league for the up and coming stars.
Many thought when John Tavares retired, his numbers would be untouchable but thanks to Dan, we know that isn’t necessarily the case. During the 2022 season, he recorded his 935th assists and 307th career games played to pass Tavares for first on the all-time list. Much like his playing, somewhat sneaked up on those milestones and tiptoed around them.
He finishes his Hall of Fame career with 322 career games played, 551 goals (4th all-time), 954 assists and 1,505 points (2nd all-time). He won the 2009 MVP award, was a six time All-League First Team member, one time a Second Team member, three championships and a Finals MVP in his NLL career. He would also win the Sportsmanship Award in 2009 and twice the Teammate of the Year award (2020 and 2023).
Internationally, he represented Team Canada in the 2004 Heritage Cup, 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Champions, 2010 World Lacrosse Championship, and 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship, winning every tournament except for 2010.
For a sixth-round draft, Dawson played the game hard and with purpose. He worked tirelessly at his craft and became one of the best players in league history and the history of our game. There is no doubt his name will be called into the NLL Hall of Fame one day soon and his work off the floor will continue to inspire the best and brightest to the sport of lacrosse.
“And I’m so thankful that this sport has taken me around the world and given me so many valuable life lessons, but more than anything it gave me a sense of purpose. I couldn’t imagine a grade 6 kid from Oakville picking up a stick and then everything that it has given me. I’m forever in debt to the sport of lacrosse for that.”
It will be hard to start an NLL season without Dan on the floor, but the work he has paved for the future is bright for many stars and those he has mentored over the years.